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Harsh winter jeopardizes food supplies in Mongolia

Mongolia is facing its second devastating winter in a row, which will greatly exacerbate already serious food supply problems. Last year, the worst winter in decades undermined the food security of large numbers of people, especially nomadic herders. Now, thick snow has once again blanketed livestock pastures where herds usually feed in winter. Temperatures have fallen to as low as minus 50 Celsius. Already, the harsh winter has killed about 600 000 animals.

One third of the population relies entirely on animal husbandry for its livelihood. With more snow forecast for February and March, it is projected that several million livestock could be lost this year. The current livestock losses come on top of 3 million animals lost in 1999/2000, about 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 implications for food security are immense, given the country's reliance on the livestock sector for meat and milk as well as foreign exchange.

Current food shortages follow several years in which domestic grain production fell due to structural changes in the economy. State farms, which were heavily subsidized, have been dismantled in favour of private enterprises. Many groups who were formerly dependent on state employment and welfare are now exposed to economic uncertainties due to limited alternative earning potential. High levels of chronic malnutrition have been reported in a number of nomadic areas.

In January, FAO participated in a UN interagency mission to Mongolia to appraise the situation, resulting in the launch of a UN appeal for US$7 million in emergency assistance to help vulnerable populations in the most severely affected provinces. The appeal also focused on building the country's capacity to prepare for emergencies.

5 February 2001

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©FAO, 2001