Silent spring for Mongolians after winter kills herds

Wed May 12, 2010 9:38am EDT
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By Jargal Byambasuren

DUNDGOBI, Mongolia (Reuters) - The winter camps of southern Mongolia are quiet during this year's breeding season, after an unusually harsh winter wiped out herds and left nomadic families with little but debt to their name.

The bitter winter killed an estimated 8 million animals, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), leaving exhausted, poverty-stricken herders struggling to survive and increasing demands on Mongolia's already-stretched national budget.

"If a market burns down, the government offers money as compensation. Then why can't the government help the herders now?" asked Nyamiin Zagdsuren, a 39-year old herder, who lost more than two thirds of his 580 animals this winter.

He is counting on the cashmere combed from his remaining 140 goats to tide over his family, and to pay back a $360 bank loan he took out to clothe and buy school supplies for his three children.

The combination of a dry summer, followed by heavy snow and low winter temperatures is known in Mongolian as a 'zud'.

Roughly one-quarter of the country's 3 million people are nomads, while others also raise livestock in fixed settlements.

In Mongolia's southern Dundgobi province, about three-quarters of nomads now live below the poverty line, from half before the winter struck. Most herders are left with less than 250 animals.

At least 335 families in Dundgobi lost all their animals over the winter as temperatures dropped to 40 degrees Celsius below zero or colder.   Continued...

<p>Carcasses of goats, which died due to cold weather, are piled up together at Bayangol County in Uvurkhangai province March 18, 2010. REUTERS/Mongolian Red Cross Society/Enkhtor Dorjzovd/Handout</p>