What's dzud you ask? Well, it's the Mongolian word for the sort of weather they are now experiencing. Roughly translated by Shambala Sun, it's an unusually dry summer where there isn't enough grass growth to allow herd animals to grow strong, followed by an unusually cold winter (we're talking -55°F at times) with higher than normal snow. It causes huge numbers of cattle to die and brings misery and hardship to the families who herd them.
This is the worst winter Mongolia has experienced in 30 years. Some 2 million domestic animals have been killed so far. The last time dzud conditions set in, 10-12 million animals died--and by all accounts this time things are much worse. Hence, predictions have been made that up to half of Mongolia's 40 million cattle may die by the time more temperature conditions take hold, in May.
Here's how the UN has assessed the situation's severity:
Compared with the same period during the last dzud in 2000-2001, dzud 2010 is much more severe in terms of the impact of the disaster on people and livestock, which comprise the backbone of the rural economy. The country's snow coverage is 90%, ranging from 20 cm to 50 cm, reaching 120 cm in the most affected areas. More snow can be expected. Over 70% of the country's territory was affected by drought last summer of 2009, which affected preparation of winter hay. The stocks of hay in the state emergency reserves are inadequate.
Three Quarters of a Million Mongolians Are Herders
Shambala Sun describes the human suffering,
Scattered across a country as big as Western Europe, some 750,000 Mongolians' livelihoods derive almost entirely from herd animals. A devastating dzud plunges tens of thousands under subsistence level, themselves risking starvation and illness. As in the last dzud, many families will migrate as economic refugees to the already grossly overcrowded capital. With no skills to apply to survival in an urban environment, desperation drives people to barely exist by picking through trash, begging (including even the smallest children, some of whom live on the streets even in winter), and prostitution. This degrading situation is often made even worse by domestically produced vodka that's cheaper than milk.