The Heat Is Online

Drought Threatens Half Million Mongolians

Mongolia Gripped by Worst Drought in 30 Years

NEW YORK, New York, June 29, 2000 (ENS) - Half a million Mongolians, or 20 percent of the country's population, are living in dire conditions because of a winter drought that killed millions of livestock.

Winter storms swept the Central Asian nation beginning early last September and by March 1.4 million livestock were dead. Large numbers of people lost their means of transportation - horses and camels - and are going hungry because they depend on milk and meat products for their major dietary requirements.

"When people lost their livestock, they lost everything," said UN Resident Coordinator Douglas Gardner at a joint press conference at United Nations headquarters in New York, Tuesday. Gardner said it is difficult to grasp the extent of suffering in drought affected areas.

Mongolia's Minister for Foreign Relations, Nyam-Osoryn Tuya, told UN officials in April that the country was facing its worst drought in 30 years. The country's ambassador to the UN, Jargalsaikhany Enkhsaikhan, told reporters Tuesday that conditions have not improved.

Enkhsaikhan said that animal husbandry plays a vital role in Mongolia's economy and is responsible for more than 30 percent of its gross national product.

Last winter, temperatures reached minus 46 degrees Celsius in some areas - the coldest in three decades. Snow and ice prevented animals from grazing, killing an estimated three million livestock, or 10 per cent of the total herds.

As spring arrived, the decaying carcasses contaminated water resources and underground water flows, increasing the likelihood of disease.

"For most people, their livestock was their only source of food, transport, heating material and purchasing power, as well as their means of access to medical service and places of education," Enkhsaikhan said.

The Mongolian government has taken many steps to cope with the disaster,and the UN was one of the first organizations to respond to Mongolia's appeal for help.

Gardner said that the United Nations and the Mongolian government are examining how future disasters of the same nature can be prevented, with the UN system focusing on building winter shelters and promoting pastureland management and veterinarian systems.

Part of the answer, Gardner said, lies with widening the economic base by helping herders to explore other forms of income generation.

Several UN agencies are helping the country respond to the drought's immediate effects, including the UN Development Programme, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Population Fund, as well as the World Health Organization.