The Heat Is Online

Blizzards Strand 100,000 in northern China

Snows kill herders, threaten wildlife in NW China

Reuters News Service (PlanetArk), Feb. 9, 2001

BEIJING - Two more herdsmen died and more than 100,000 are stranded or short of food after months of blizzards in the remote Chinese region of Xinjiang, state media reported on Thursday.

The reports said the snows and freezing temperatures that have pummelled an arc stretching from Central Asia across Mongolia and China to North Korea were the heaviest in northern Xinjiang's mountainous Altay region in 50 years.

Xinhua news agency said 60 herdsmen had been injured along with the two that died. The agency gave no composite death toll, but had reported last month that 13 herders were killed in avalanches or had frozen to death in arctic temperatures.

The agency quoted local officials as saying 50,000 herdsmen were stranded in deep snow in the three counties of Qinghe, Fuyun and Jeminay in predominantly Muslim Xinjiang.

Another 63,000 herding families faced food shortages and 5,000 households lacked fuel, while temperatures plunged as low as minus 45 degrees Celsius (-49 Fahrenheit) and snow piled 70 cm (28 in) deep in valleys to 2.5 metres deep (8 ft) in highlands.

Xinhua said Altay, which borders Mongolia, had been hit by 22 blizzards since October and that 2.15 million head of livestock were threatened with death by freezing or starvation.

The China Daily reported that rare wildlife, including herds of gazelles and endangered Asiatic wild asses and argali sheep, were threatened by the cold.

Thick snows kept the animals from grazing in wildlife preserves, forcing many to range far outside their protected territory, the official newspaper said.

The accounts of the plight in Xinjiang follow reports of a similar disaster unfolding to the east, where at least 29 people have died in the Chinese region of Inner Mongolia.

Mongolia's winter disaster has killed eight herders and about 500,000 animals since November, a crippling blow for a country where one third of the population relies entirely on livestock for food, shelter, transport, heating and income.

UN agencies and the Red Cross have launched international aid appeals for Inner Mongolia and Mongolia, where meteorologists say harsh winter weather could last through April.

The United Nations has also expressed concern the cold weather would aggravate the misery in North Korea, where six years of severe fuel and food shortages have left millions of people sick and weak.