Syndicate content

Add new comment

My first reaction was "Oh no, not again!". But it was also good to see the reality of the disaster (numbers of dead livestock mentioned in reports are hollow, abstract compared to this video...) I have been doing PhD research on climate vulnerability and adaptation in the govi region in 2006/2007. What I can say is that herders do not conceive dzud as unavoidable. They have seen it before, some of them many times. What is disconcerting and puzzling is the frequency of these extreme events (droughts and dzuds) not allowing herds (and people) to recover. This can be attributed to climate change (increased variability), as is the now rather obvious heating and drying of many parts of Mongolia. Yet, changes in rains seem to be very localised and herders try to avoid droughts and fatten animals by 'following the rains', migrating to where the grass (and water is). But, migration has become increasingly expensive and cumbersome (bureaucratic), especially out of one's sum or aymag. In my opinion (and my informants'), the only way to deal with dzud is to winter far away from it, if one could foresee it, or more likely to have fat animals that can starve for a while while waiting for better days. Hay may be used as an emergency coping (like putting the animals in the ger), but not as a proper adaptation. It takes at least 10 tons of hay for a herd of 150 animals (bog and bodmal) to survive 1 month without pasture. Is there any herder who affords (buying) this? And if they do, do they do it? The government insists on the hay/fodder emergency reserve as the main adaptation against dzud, but time and again this does not seem to work. Even if the fodder would make it to the herds (by helicopter or trucks, etc.) it couldn't possibly save the majority if the dzud lasts. A local hay reserve may be more appropriate but it still may be a false friend- falsely reinsuring some herders. The solution again is to move freely, widely. Resources would be better used in my opinion if transportation would be subsidised during droughts, making sure herds reach the available pastures, get fat and meet the winter in their best physical shape. Today people have to pay a lot of money for renting trucks and paying for fuel to move, in addition to often being charged for using pastures, wells, winter shelters in a different sum/aymag. Many herders take commercial loans to finance these movements, with 30-40% interest per year. The only way they can afford paying back is by selling cashmere. It's easy to understand why the number of goats has increased (incidentally herders are not very keen on goats). That being said, the discussion of goats being more damaging to the environment than other livestock is largely a received wisdom with virtually no research to back it up. Moreover, the whole discussion of 'too many animals' should also be nuanced. There are estimates of more than 40 million livestock in Mongolia in the olden days (Chinggis Khan's time). The research we have this far shows that at least in some places (govi/ desert-steppe) the number of animals has little bearing on the quality of the pasture, while in the khangay it may be more significant. We cannot blame the present tragedy on the careless herders who don't take care of the pastures. Let us just hope the bad weather stops soon and the spring arrives sooner this year, all we need is some warmth (where's the global warming when one needs it?) to turn all this snow into grass. Fingers crossed!