Mongolia is vulnerable to a wide range of natural disasters, including blizzards, heavy snowfalls, floods, dust storms, droughts, wildfires, and earthquakes. These events not only have adverse impacts on people’s lives, but also on livestock which is the key source of food, transport, and income for a number of Mongolian families.
Due to changes in the climate, Mongolia has witnessed an increase in the frequency of these hazards in recent years, often causing the overstretching of the government’s response capacity. A rapid, yet unplanned, urban development also further increases the country’s vulnerability.
Close to half of Mongolia’s population of three million lead a nomadic life and depend entirely on livestock for a living. A prolonged dry summer drought followed by harsh winter conditions often leads to the death of a large number of livestock, posing particular risks to the survival of herder families, especially in remote and rural areas. During this slow-onset climatic phenomenon, unique to Mongolia and locally known as 'dzud', temperatures can drop to as low as -50°C across the country. Mongolia experienced two consecutive dzud events in 2016 and 2017, causing more than a million livestock to perish and threatening the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people. The increasing frequency of the event has been attributed largely to the impacts of climate change and overgrazing of the Mongolian steppes.
The sparsely populated country is the size of western Europe and has poor transport infrastructure. Providing assistance is a challenge as many families live in their own family compounds which are constantly on the move, with herders seeking better grazing spots for their animals.Due to rapid economic growth sparked by a mining boom, many families are now leaving the rural areas and flocking to informal settlements around the capital, Ulaanbaatar, which is leading to a number of social problems. Among other things, there are many fires caused by illegal electrical connections.
In response to dzud phenomena, which severely hampered the capacity of populations in isolated areas to access food and livelihood resources whilst devastating livestock herds in 2016 and 2017, the European Union provided €535 000 to bring immediate emergency relief to the hardest-hit families. Under the funding, food assistance was provided to the most vulnerable households. In addition, first aid kits and unconditional cash grants were also distributed to enable affected herders to maintain their physical well-being in particularly challenging climatic conditions and cover other immediate needs following their own priorities.
In 2012, the European Union delivered urgent humanitarian aid and fire prevention training to some 5 600 people living in difficult social conditions as a result of the 'dzud'. The project, implemented by the Finnish Red Cross and the Mongolian Red Cross, provided shelter support, basic household items, winter clothing, and psycho-social care to thousands of poor families.
The 'Dzud' of 2009-2010 had a severe impact throughout the country, leaving an estimated 8.5 million livestock perished and some 500 000 people - more than 18% of the population - at risk. The EU provided €2.15 million in humanitarian aid reaching some 46 000 people affected by the -50°C temperatures. The EU funding supported the delivery of emergency food, blankets and warm clothing as well as fodder supplies and storage facilities, to help affected households to secure the survival of their livestock. Around 45 000 people were estimated to have lost all their livestock and some of them were forced to migrate to urban areas, where many faced difficulties adjusting and often ended up in chronic poverty, marginalised and exposed to disease.
EU-funded projects delivered food, health, and social assistance to the affected population as well as vocational training so that newly urbanised households could adapt to their new environment by accessing job opportunities. Particular attention was also paid to supporting the accommodation and hygiene of 5 000 boys and girls in 34 public education institutions. This ensured that children of destitute herders received an education and were not pushed into forced labour to support their families.
In order to enhance the capacities to respond to future natural hazards in the context of climate change, in 2016 the EU introduced its disaster preparedness activities in Mongolia, with funding totalling €1.1 million to date. Implemented by humanitarian partners on the ground, the projects aimed to strengthen the resilience of herder communities in rural areas to changes in weather patterns whilst also improving institutional preparedness for medium to large-scale disasters in densely populated areas in Ulaanbaatar, home to 44% of the total population of Mongolia according to the 2013 census. The funding also focuses on raising public awareness for urban disasters and increasing school safety.