300,000 semi-nomadic herders live in the Mongolian steppe, where they generate an income from farming and livestock. Over the past two decades, climate change has made what is known as a dzud more severe and more frequent. Dzuds are extreme winters characterised by freezing temperatures, heavy snow, and frozen ground, with temperatures reaching lows of -25°C, 10°C below the average. While herders and animals living in this region are resilient to environmental hazards, and are used to hot summers and cold winters, dzuds put an additional strain on the lives of herders, who receive 35% of their income from livestock. More than 60 million animals, such as camels, horses, cows, buffalos, and goats, rely on the steppe for pasture. In 2018, Mongolia’s harsh winter killed more than 700,000 heads of livestock. Larger households have on average 1,200–1,500 livestock, but the poorest ones can only rely on a few hundred animals. During harsh winters, the poorest Mongolian households risk losing all means of securing their livelihoods.
Seventeen out of 21 aimags (provinces) across Mongolia have been affected by a dzud, a phenomenon characterised by harsh winter conditions that result in extremely high numbers of livestock deaths. Around 157,000 herders are at risk of losing livestock and livelihoods, with the lean season expected to last until May. A previously rare phenomenon occurring once a decade, this is the second consecutive year with dzud conditions in Mongolia, limiting herders’ abilities to cope. Bulgan, Khuvsgul, and Zavkhan are among the aimags affected by the dzud. Seven out of 36 priority soums (districts) in Mongolia identified on 22 December 2016 were in Khuvsgul, with another priority soum in Bulgan. The situation across Mongolia is expected to worsen, as the heaviest snowfalls are expected to coincide with the beginning of the spring birthing season.