0845 602 55 95

Mongolia’s worst winter on record

Mongolia is a truly stunning country, its beauty lies in the vast open expanses, incredible culture, the friendly and generous people you meet and the feeling of being in one of the last true remote areas of the world.

The hardiness of the people who live there is a reflection of the incredibly harsh conditions. If evidence were needed of exactly how ‘easy’ our life in the UK is by comparison, during our harsh winter this year all most of us had to deal with was a few days off work and a little inconvenience in not being able to use our cars as we usually do for a week or two.

How would we survive a whole winter at -40°C?

How can you be self-sufficient when permafrost means that growing anything to sustain yourself is near to impossible for a large part of the year?

Can you really survive these conditions year after year when you live in a Ger (traditional felt tent)?

The fact is the Mongolian people are amazingly resilient, over a third of the population maintain the traditional nomadic lifestyle, but sadly as in many cultures the traditional way of life and the modern world with its integrated economy are not always compatible; this is very much the case in Mongolia today.

There are positive signs in Mongolia, but it is a young democracy surrounded by two of the world’s superpowers and abandoned by its former benefactor. It is starting to realise the potential mineral wealth which lies just below the surface and which China would gladly gobble up, but these projects take years to create wealth and require huge capital injections (which themselves often come at a cost of handing over large stakes to nation builders like China & Russia). Relatively small countries like Mongolia who are trying to help themselves but who have arrived late to the world economy, are always going to struggle.

All this matters little to the over 1 million nomads in Mongolia, their way of life is little affected by the world at large, but with an ever bludgeoning urban population crammed into two or three major cities divided by vast areas of steppe / desert and with little infrastructure, the lack of reliable services and the all but non-existent welfare state, creates predictable problems.

What does affect everyone be they nomadic herder or urban resident is the kind of winter they are slowly emerging from. The vast majority of Mongolians rely on their herds to sustain them and in most of the country yaks are the economy.

60% of all livestock in Mongolia has been lost this winter; while we rightly worry about recession at home, Mongolia has effectively lost 60% of their economy, an economy which is as real as the individual yaks and sheep that each family has lost.

It is difficult to quantify such a fundamental loss, but imagine if fire destroyed 60% of every business, 60% of every item of stock on the shelves of every store disappeared, for every ten loaves of bread on the supermarket shelf only four were available; the UK would go into total meltdown.

In Mongolia the end is not in sight, they can’t just restock, the summer months are short and the harsh conditions mean their cattle and sheep have short reproductive cycles and produce less offspring over their lifetimes. Hardy the yak may be, but evolution has developed this hardiness of this creature by reducing the yield to increase survival rates.

Think about this, if you rely on your livestock for food, in order to be self-sufficient you have to slaughter some and keep some for reproduction. If over one winter your herd is reduced by 60%, you need to increase reproduction in order to make up the numbers, but the number you have to slaughter to feed your family and prepare for another winter stays the same; there comes a point when this is no longer sustainable, something has to give.

There is the real possibility that come the spring this disaster will be perceived to be levelling off as the thaw kicks in, whereas in reality it is the long term effect which has the potential to be devastating.

The Christina Noble Children’s Foundation carry out amazing work in Mongolia and we are always delighted to recommend them to you. A little still goes a very long way in Mongolia and it never ceases to amaze me what good they can do with the little funding they get.

Please visit their website at www.cncf.org to discover more about the work they do and the volunteering opportunities they can offer.

To view the original article Click Here

Source – CNCF

Date – March 2010