27 March 2024 - Global

Mongolia's extreme winter: 5.2 million livestock dead as children miss out on school

The cold weather conditions brought on by Dzud – a natural phenomenon when drought is followed by a harsh winter, kills crops and freezes livestock to death.

A pile of livestock carcasses along the road in Sukhbaatar province, Eastern Mongolia. 04 March, 2024. Photo credit: Khash-Erdene Bayarsaikhan / Save the Children

ULAANBATAR, 27 March 2024 - Mongolia’s extreme winter conditions, or Dzud, shows no sign of abating and the country, which is at the frontlines of the global climate crisis, is paying for it dearly having lost 5.2 million livestock[1], or about 8 % of its total livestock, said Save the Children.

Many children in the worst affected areas of the country, where around a third[2] of the population is nomadic, are also missing out on school because of road closures brought on by thick snow and ice, as well as families who have been forced to tend to their herd fulltime.

About 5.2 million livestock have been confirmed dead so far this winter out of 64.7 million livestock that were recorded alive at the end of 2023.[3]

The livestock sector is an integral part of Mongolia’s economy, accounting for an average of 13 % of the country’s GDP. It also accounts for about a quarter of all jobs and has been a part of traditional livelihoods for centuries.

Major dzuds used to take place about every decade in Mongolia but the frequency has increased in recent years due to climate change leading to pasture depletion.  This is the second consecutive severe dzud to hit Mongolia in the past decade and dzuds are expected to take place every other year going forward.[4]

The cold weather conditions brought on by Dzud – a natural phenomenon when drought is followed by a harsh winter that kills crops and freezes livestock to death – is also taking a toll on children and families.

In Uvs province, Western Mongolia, Nansalmaa, 25, who is a mother to five children, including a one-month-old baby, said the family lost 10 horses and 3 cows to Dzud this winter. Her husband, Togtokhbayar, sold most of the family’s sheep and goats in the autumn and had culled their herd to try to make it through the winter with minimal losses.

Nansalmaa plans to move to Ulaangom city, the province’s center, so that her eldest can attend school.

Elsewhere in Uvs province, where over 400,000 livestock[5] perished last year because of the Dzud, Sumiya,3, and Batsettseg, 4, were taken out of kindergarten. With all their family members busy taking care of animals in the countryside, the two girls had no one to look after them near the school and have remained with their parents and grandparents at their home located near an ice-covered and treacherously winding road.

The girls’ grandfather Davaa, 56, said: “I haven’t seen a winter this hard since I became a herder, some 33 years ago.”

During a visit to affected areas in Mongolia this month, Save the Children also observed emotional distress displayed by children who had lost livestock, including beloved family animals, and from a lack of attention from parents who are busy trying to keep their livestock alive.

In Sukhbaatar province in eastern Mongolia, the sight of animal carcasses piled along the roadside is a stark reminder of the Dzud's devastation. Herders that Save the Children spoke to this month became tearful when recounting the loss of their herd. For many, livestock are their pride and represent the result of their hard work.

Bayan-Altai Luvsandorj, Country Manager and Representative, Save the Children Japan, Mongolia office, said:  

“We’re seeing widespread devastation and impact on children and families in Mongolia because of Dzud. Some children in the worst-affected soums, or regions, are missing out on school because roads have been completely cut off. Other children who do manage to go to school lack essential items including hygiene products and winter shoes because herder families are focused on trying to keep their livestock alive.

Herding and livestock have traditionally been a big part of Mongolia’s culture and traditional way of living but the loss of so many animals could push more families to move to cities which will affect their children and plunge some families into poverty and unemployment.”

Save the Children is actively working in five of Mongolia’s 21 province in response to the current Dzud and is providing psychological first aid to children living in school dormitories whose families have been affected by dzud.[6]  by training dormitory teachers on how to provide psychological first aid to children.

Save the Children has worked in Mongolia since 1994 running programmes focused on education, child protection, health, and addressing child poverty and child rights governance as well as providing humanitarian assistance to herder households affected by dzuds, floods and sandstorms. 





[2] Of the 983485 households in Mongolia (2023), 189,280 were herders (nomads) according to the National Statistics Office, which is 19 percent of total households.


[4] https://www.asianstudies.org/wp-content/uploads/mongolian-dzud-threats-to-and-protection-of-mongolias-herding-communities.pdf

[5] UVs province governor data.



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