19 April 2023 - Mongolia

MONGOLIA: Brutally cold winter kills livestock and leaves 80,000 children in need of aid

child riding a horse with livestock

Byamba-Ochir, 12-years-old, lives with his herder parents and siblings in a Mongolian-Russian border village. Credit: Delgermaa Altangerel / Save the Children

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ULAANBAATAR, 19 April 2023: A bitterly cold winter after a summer of drought has left herder families in Mongolia without livestock and facing severe food shortages as well as struggling to afford basics such as school supplies, hygiene items and healthcare, Save the Children warned.

Currently 13 of Mongolia’s 21 provinces are experiencing a dzud. It’s a natural phenomenon unique to Mongolia, when heavy snow and extreme cold follow a summer drought resulting in insufficient grazing pastures and killing livestock. Between 1940 and 2015, there were official "dzud declarations" made twice a decade. However, dzud’s have increased in frequency, with occurrences now happening annually.

This year, winter temperatures dropped as low as -40° Celsius causing many animals that were already malnourished to perish due to starvation or freezing, affecting the livelihoods of nearly 200,000 households who make an income from herding goats, sheep, cattle, horses, yaks and camels. The dire situation is exacerbated by inflation, which skyrocketed in 2022.

As a result of the dzud, around 213,000 people, including 80,000 children, are now in need of humanitarian aid including food, access to health facilities, and hygiene items. During a dzud, children under five are at high risk of malnutrition, respiratory diseases, and injuries, as their caregivers struggle to afford attention and healthcare.

Climate experts say the frequency and severity of dzuds is increasing and this can be attributed to the climate crisis. Temperatures in Mongolia are rising twice as fast as the global average, with temperatures warming over 2°C and declines in rainfall reported between 1940 and 2015. A decrease in annual precipitation has led to the increased frequency of dzuds.

Delgerbat, 39, his wife and three children live in Ikh-Uul soum (village) in Zavkhan Province in western Mongolia. Delgerbat recently had to take his son out of school to help him care for their livestock. About 40% of Mongolians rely on livestock for a living. He said:

“The climate is very different from when I was a child. The summers are too hot, the winters too cold and less grass and plants are grown. When I was young the snow would have melted by this time and it would already be spring, but now spring comes so late.”

A dzud takes a psychological toll on children as they worry about their family members and animals. Delgerbat’s daughter Yesun, 13, added:

“The dzud arrives when there is a lot of snow and no grass. My father and mother saidtoeach other that they don't have money to buy grass. It is hard to watch our animals die.”

Myagmarsuren, 9, lives in a village on the Mongolia-Russia border. He said:

“This year there was a lot of snow and the cattle got sick. One of my two beloved animals, a baby goat named Orgio, died. Orgio showed me a lot of affection and ate bread from my hand. When he recognised me, he would run up to me and bite my hand. It is terrible to see animals die.”

Children of herders often live away from home in school dormitories, but they depend on their families for hygiene items such as toothpaste, soap and menstrual health items. Many families struggle to afford these items during the harsh winter. Myagmarsuren'smother,Tuya, 46, said:

“It is hard to make a living raising livestock. During a dzud, we devote all our attention and resources to the animals. The children in the dormitory need many things, but I cannot always give my children what they need.

Save the Children is helping herders and their children in Khovd, Zavkhan, Gobi-Altai, Bayankhongor, and Tuv provinces. The organisation also distributed hygiene kits to about 2,130 children of herders, who are staying in school dormitories.

Altantsetseg, a single mother to six children, lives in Tes soum (village), Zavkhan Province in western Mongolia. The family receives support from Save the Children. She said:

“This year's price increase and inflation are affecting herders. Fuel, oil and other commodity prices are up, except for meat and raw material. I am glad to receive theanimalfodder and cash assistance,when the help is desperately needed. If the animals give birth to their offspring safely and survive this March, we will be fine.

Bayan-Altai Luvsandorj, Country Manager and Representative of Save the Children Japan’s Mongolia Programme said:

“Herder families urgently need support so they can purchase essential items such as food and medicine, and also animal fodder to save their livestock and protect their future livelihoods. Dzuds are becoming more common and more severe as a result of the climate change. The international community needs to provide humanitarian aid, but it also needs to support herder communities to adapt to climate change, in order to prevent future humanitarian disasters.”

Save the Children’s humanitarian response to the dzud was implemented with funding from the START Fund of the UK, the Humanitarian Fund of Save the Children International, Save the Children Japan and the Swiss Cooperation Office of the Embassy of Switzerland in Mongolia.



  • As of 1st February 2023, according to OCHA
  • Nearly 80,000 children in need of humanitarian aid, is based on the share of the children in the population in 2022 being 36.6%, and 213,000 people with limited food, 36.6% of 210,000 equals 77958.
  • An estimated 20,000 children needing life-saving assistance, is based on the share of the children in the population in 2022 being 36.6%, and 56,000 people needing urgent life-saving assistance, 36.6% of 56,000 equals 19,398. 


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