ANOTHER brutally cold winter in Mongolia, a country at the frontline of the global climate crisis, is putting children’s mental health and physical wellbeing at risk, owing to separation from caregivers and limited food and medicines, says Save the Children.
About 90 per cent of Mongolia is currently impacted by dzud – a prolonged summer drought followed by severe winter conditions – according to the country’s National Emergency Management Agency, with much of the country under snow.
Major dzuds used to take place about every decade in Mongolia but the frequency has increased in recent years due to climate change leading to pasture depletion. This is the second consecutive severe dzud to hit Mongolia and the fifth in the past decade.
More than 258,000 people have been affected so far this year – about eight per cent of the population – including about 100,000 children, says Save the Children.
Mongolia’s severe weather disruptions have made it one of the most affected countries when it comes to climate change. The harsh winter temperatures of -35 Celsius (- 31 Fahrenheit) that the country is experiencing is killing livestock integral to the lives of many herders who account for 30 per cent of the 3.5 million population. About 60,000 cattle have died so far this winter, between December and early January.
Amid such extreme weather conditions, herders leave their children with older relatives or at dormitory schools while they tend to their animals, leading to psychological stress.
Temperatures in Mongolia have plunged to historic lows in recent years and a lack of rain over the summer period meant that many herders could not prepare enough hay and fodder to see them through the harsh winter. Families with small herds who struggle to make ends meet, along with their children, often bear the brunt of disastrous weather conditions brought on by climate change.
Climate experts say the frequency and severity of dzuds is increasing and this can be attributed to the climate crisis. Temperatures in Mongolia are rising twice as fast as the global average, warming over 2 Celsius and a sharp fall in rainfall has been reported between 1940 and 2015.
Bayan-Altai Luvsandorj, Country Manager and Representative, Save the Children Japan, Mongolia office, said: “Extreme weather conditions are becoming more frequent in Mongolia due to climate change. Dzud is a winter condition combined with heavy snow and/or extreme cold temperatures. During this event, many herders are stuck in their winter base because of heavy snow and road blockages. Some may be able to move their herd to look for pasture and vegetation hundreds of kilometres away from their homes.”
“Many children cannot be protected and cared for properly during Dzud and it is common for children to have to stay in dormitories or in the care of other relatives for weeks or months at a time. The priority for the herding families in these challenging times is to save as many livestock as possible by moving to safer locations or by leaving behind their school-age children. This puts children at elevated risk of emotional and physical stress which affects their well-being.”
In many provinces with heavy snowfall, roads need to be cleared for fodder, food and fuel to reach cut-off communities and to help sick or pregnant people to clinics and hospitals. Batdulam, a mother and herder in Zavkhan province, Western Mongolia, told Save the Children that the winter months bring many challenges including roadblocks that affect her children’s health and their ability to go to school.
“I have two small children, three years, and 10 months old. In winter they often have a cough. But it is not possible to buy medicines, because the prices of medicines have increased”, she said. “Because of the road conditions, I cannot take my youngest daughter for vaccinations.”
Save the Children has worked in Mongolia since 1994 running programmes focused on education, child protection, health, addressing child poverty and child rights governance as well as providing humanitarian assistance to herder households affected by dzuds, floods and sandstorms.
* Source: Save the Children International