Yet another harsh winter in Mongolia endangers children due to the impacts of climate change, warns Save the Children

Children endure the harsh winter conditions in Mongolia in this photo from last year, captured by Delgermaa Altangerel for Save the Children.

ULAANBATAR, January 22, 2024 – Save the Children warns that another extremely cold winter in Mongolia, a country on the frontline of the global climate crisis, is jeopardizing the mental health and physical well-being of children. The risks include separation from caregivers and limited access to food and medicines.

About 90% of Mongolia is currently affected by dzud[i] – a prolonged summer drought followed by severe winter conditions – as reported by the country’s National Emergency Management Agency. Much of the nation is covered in snow.

Historically, major dzuds occurred approximately every decade in Mongolia, but the frequency has increased due to climate change, resulting in pasture depletion. This marks the second consecutive severe dzud in Mongolia and the fifth in the past decade.

Save the Children reports that over 258,000 people have been affected so far this year, around 8% of the population, including approximately 100,000 children.

Mongolia, with its severe weather disruptions, stands out as one of the most affected countries by climate change. The country is currently experiencing harsh winter temperatures of –35 Celsius ( – 31 Fahrenheit), causing significant livestock losses. Herders, constituting 30% of the 3.5 million population, have seen about 60,000 cattle perish between December and early January[ii].

Facing extreme weather conditions, herders often leave their children with older relatives or at dormitory schools while they attend to their animals, leading to psychological stress.

Mongolia has witnessed historic lows in temperatures in recent years, and a lack of rain during the summer period has left many herders without sufficient hay and fodder for the challenging winter.

Families with small herds, struggling to make ends meet, along with their children, bear the brunt of disastrous weather conditions brought on by climate change.

Climate experts attribute the increasing frequency and severity of dzuds to the climate crisis. Mongolia’s temperatures are rising twice as fast as the global average, with a reported warming of over 2°C and a sharp decline in rainfall between 1940 and 2015.

Bayan-Altai Luvsandorj, Country Manager and Representative at Save the Children Japan, Mongolia office, remarked, “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 kilometers 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 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, affecting their well-being.”

In provinces experiencing heavy snowfall, clearing roads is essential to reaching cut-off communities with fodder, food, and fuel and assisting sick or pregnant individuals in accessing clinics and hospitals.

Batdulam, a 48-year-old mother and herder in Zavkhan province, Western Mongolia, shared with Save the Children the challenges she faces during the winter months, including roadblocks affecting her children’s health and school attendance.

“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 been active in Mongolia since 1994, running programs focused on education, child protection, health, addressing child poverty, child rights governance, and providing humanitarian assistance to herder households affected by dzuds, floods, and sandstorms.

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