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Disaster strikes agriculture industry as 'merciless' phenomenon kills millions of livestock: 'The worst is yet to come'

"Some of the herders have lost all of their animals. All of them."

"It might take between five and 10 years to restore their livestock."

Photo Credit: iStock

A cold weather disaster in Mongolia has left millions of livestock dead, resulting in a massive food shortage.

What's happening?

A dzud, a severe winter weather phenomenon, has devastated nearly six million livestock, according to an article in the New York Times. The World Health Organization reported that Mongolia has seen the most snow in 49 years, causing the deaths of well more than 5.9 million livestock (the number appears to have grown since the Times reported).

With the majority of the country's grazing land frozen over or covered in snow, animals were forced to freeze or starve to death — a trend that, unfortunately, continues until new grass sprouts in the spring. 

Tapan Mishra, the top United Nations official in Mongolia, wrote in March, "The worst is yet to come." 

Why is this weather disaster concerning?

While Mongolian herders are no strangers to "merciless" winters, as described by the deputy governor of one of the worst-hit provinces in the country, the rising frequency has made their lives more difficult and uncertain.

According to the New York Times, a third of Mongolia's population depends on herding and agriculture for livelihood.

With temperatures in Mongolia rising twice as fast as the global average, extreme weather events have tripled in the last decade, per the Times. While dzuds used to occur once every decade, this year marks the second consecutive severe dzud and the fifth since 2014.

Evariste Kouassi-Komlan, UNICEF's representative in Mongolia, traveled to a remote western village to deliver medicine and saw the devastation first-hand. 

"Some of the herders have lost all of their animals," he said in an interview, per the Times. "All of them." In one example, a farmer had taken out loans to pay for extra food necessary to feed their herds over the winter, but it still wasn't enough, and now their entire livelihood is gone.

The New York Times further reported that more than 2,000 families have lost over 70% of their livestock, and snow buried more than 1,000 homes.

Mr. Kouassi-Komlan said, "It might take between five and 10 years to restore their livestock."

What's being done to help Mongolia?

The Mongolian government elevated its disaster levels to "high alert" in February. Hay, fodder, food, gas, and medical supplies were delivered to herders, but they needed more.

The United States government has provided additional relief for hay, veterinary supplies, and cash assistance through the USAID program. Since 2010, USAID has provided nearly $8 million to support disaster risk reduction programs in Mongolia.

It's important to note that, per the Times, no scientific studies have been conducted to prove the weather phenomenon is connected to our planet's overheating. Overgrazing and the depletion of grasslands are other factors to consider. However, the rising heat paired with the abnormal weather patterns shouldn't be overlooked until official data is released. 

As individuals, talking to friends, donating money, and educating yourself on matters that are important to you, domestically and globally, are great ways to change the way you get involved in climate matters.

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