Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

Unravelling Mongolia's Extreme Winter Disaster of 2010

Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

Unravelling Mongolia's Extreme Winter Disaster of 2010

Article excerpt


The 2010 extreme winter disaster (dzud) in Mongolia has lead to great livestock mortality (around 20 per cent of the national herd), the loss of pastoral livelihoods and rural displacement and affected 28 per cent of the country's population. Whilst environmental conditions were the immediate cause, contributory factors include a changing climate, current herding practices and weak governance. The severity of the event points out herding vulnerability, a lack of dzud preparedness and climate's disruptive impact on steppe pastoralism. This article examines the intertwined natural and human processes that shaped the dzud and the implications for pastoralism in Mongolia. Learning from the 2010 event is critical to reduce disaster risk and hazard impact on steppe livelihoods. Keywords: pastoralism, dzud, disaster, livestock mortality, Mongolia


Understanding the diverse forces that create disaster and affect society is essential to unravelling the complexity of climate events. As endemic features, dzud (extreme winter conditions) and drought are part of the steppe pastoral landscape. The recent 2010 winter disaster in Mongolia provides the opportunity to examine how natural hazards interact with humans on the Asian steppe. Immediate concern focuses on the great livestock mortality rate (about 20 per cent of the national herd), its impact on 28 per cent of the country's population and the loss of livelihood that will lead to displacement and out-migration from rural regions (UN 2010; IFRC 2010). Prompt analysis of the unfolding disaster matters because the severity of the event will significantly affect pastoralism in Mongolia whilst the resultant urban resettlement reshapes the country's social dynamics.

Mongolia has a long history of natural hazards, from one of the world's largest earthquakes ever--in 1905, with 8.4 magnitude (USGS 2010)--to the drought-dzud episodes of 1999-2002 that have been identified as 'the country's worst disaster' (Batima et al. 2005). Citizens and the government are aware of the precarious balance of environment-dependent livelihoods in the countryside (Nandintsetseg et al. 2007; Davi et al. 2009). To improve conditions, in 2009 the government, through the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), undertook a programme of 'strengthening the disaster mitigation and management systems in Mongolia' with international support from the United Nations. The laudable goal was to enhance the country's ability to prepare for and respond to natural hazards in both urban and rural regions and embrace the global Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) agenda. However, before the review was completed and any policies reformulated events overtook planning, as a severe dzud struck over 80 per cent of the country in winter 2010 (IFRC 2010). As millions of livestock died, government attention shifted from assessment to emergency relief.

With great animal mortality comes loss of pastoral livelihoods and food supply, displacement, out-migration from the countryside to cities and societal upheaval. As the dzud and its impacts continue to unfold, the socio-economic damage is unclear, yet past events have shown that the implications for herders and society are significant (Siurua and Swift 2002; Suttie 2005; Angerer et al. 2008). At this stage (May 2010), data from the government and United Nations are only estimates and limited in scope, yet they provide a basis for evaluating how the disaster interacts with society. When mortality rates, facts and impacts are established, an in-depth analysis of the dzud and its social consequences can be undertaken. In assessing the immediate and contributory causes and the implications of the 2010 dzud, this article examines the role of government policy and action in disaster preparedness and response, herder practices in a market economy and the escalating impact of climate on human well-being, a point that draws the issue of environmental migration into the pastoral debate. …

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