FAO GLOBAL INFORMATION AND EARLY WARNING SYSTEM ON FOOD AND AGRICULTURE

SPECIAL ALERT

No. 314

(Circulated only for countries where foodcrops or supply situation conditions give rise to concern)

Date: 2 February 2001

PERILOUS FOOD SITUATION DEVELOPING IN MONGOLIA AS ANOTHER HARSH WINTER HITS

Following the worst winter in decades last year, which seriously undermined the food security of large numbers of people especially nomadic herders, this year again the country faces a devastating winter which will greatly exacerbate existing food supply problems. Thick snow has blanketed livestock pastures for the second year in succession on which herds usually feed in winter and temperatures have fallen to as low as minus 50° Celsius. The harsh winter has already killed about 600 000 animals, on which a third of the population rely entirely for their livelihood and income. With more snow forecast in February and March, it is currently projected that several million livestock could be again lost this year. The current livestock losses come on top of some 3 million animals lost in 1999/2000, which represented around 10 percent of the total herd.

The adverse weather also poses considerable problems for transporting food and medical supplies to areas where the population is particularly vulnerable to food shortages. The cold winter follows a summer drought which reduced the fodder crop for animals, making this the second year in succession that recovery in feed and fodder has not been possible. The situation is expected to deteriorate further as the winter progresses.

The impact of another cold winter and reduced fodder supplies on livestock will have immense food security implications. The livestock sector plays an extremely important part in the household economy for a large section of the population. In addition, given vast distances and the lack of access to alternative food sources, animals also play a vital role in household food security, providing essential nutritional needs through meat and milk. Estimates before the winter crisis this year and last indicate that normally animals would provide around 92 kilograms of meat and 130 kilograms of milk-products per caput annually. Large losses, therefore, will have direct and severe impact on household food security of large numbers of herders, especially those in remote inaccessible areas. Nutritional problems are likely to be compounded by problems of access to basic medical assistance as transport systems remain highly constrained by snow cover and lack of animal transport. The livestock sector also plays an extremely important part in the national economy, being a major source of foreign exchange.

Current food shortages follow several years in which domestic grain production has been falling due to structural changes in the economy. State farms, which were previously heavily subsidised, have been dismantled in favour of private enterprises; 70 state farms under the central system have been dismantled to create over 300 farm companies. Production has declined progressively, as farm enterprises have been unable to obtain adequate loans from banks to buy machinery, seeds and fertilizers on the one hand, whilst lacking managerial skills to operate large enterprises on the other. As a result, the area under cultivation, yields per hectare and overall production have decreased appreciably (see Chart below).

Undisplayed Graphic

Due to economic transition, even before the series of severe setbacks this year and last, serious concerns were increasing regarding the falling standards of nutrition in the country. Many groups who were formerly dependent on state employment and welfare are now exposed to economic uncertainties due to limited alternative earning potential. Various reports in the mid-1990s indicated that those most affected by poverty and food insecurity include the unemployed, the elderly, female headed households, children, pensioners and small herders. Recent studies by NGOs report high levels of chronic malnutrition in a number of nomadic areas, with many families living in extreme poverty with almost no resources.

A UN interagency Mission, including FAO, visited Mongolia in January to appraise the situation and has launched an appeal for emergency relief. The focus of the UN appeal would be on vulnerable populations in the most severely affected provinces and on building the disaster management and co-ordination capacity of the State Emergency Commission (SEC) and other relevant national partners to enhance preparedness and future response. The appeal covers a period of four months, from 1 February to 31 May 2001 and is for US$7 million in cash and US$4.7 million in kind to assist beneficiaries in 73 affected counties. The appeal will focus assistance on the following sectors: livestock (US$4 million in cash and US$4.7 million kind, health, water and sanitation US$2.3 million and nutrition US$ 608 000.

This report is prepared on the responsibility of the FAO Secretariat with information from official and unofficial sources. Since conditions may change rapidly, please contact Mr. Abdur Rashid, Chief, ESCG, FAO, (Fax: 0039-06-5705-4495, E-Mail (INTERNET): GIEWS1@FAO.ORG ) for further information if required.

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