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Mongolians ‘broken’ by harvest of carcasses

May 27, 2010

From MSNBC

SOUTH HANGAY PROVINCE, Mongolia – They call it the zud, a prolonged period of heavy snows and paralyzing cold that adds to the challenges of living on a treeless expanse nearly the size of Alaska. But this year’s zud followed a punishing summer drought that stunted the grass and left Munkhbat Lkhagvasuren’s herds emaciated and his family in debt after borrowing money for fodder.

As the snow piled waist high this winter and temperatures plunged to 40 below zero, Mr. Lkhagvasuren crammed two dozen of the weakest goats and sheep into his yurt. The unlucky ones, more than 1,000 animals, froze to death in a great heap outside his front door. “I tried everything but could not fight against nature,” he said tearfully in a recent interview, the stench of rotting flesh overpowering despite a devilish wind. “I am broken and lost.”

Mongolia and its 800,000 herders are reeling from the worst winter that anyone can remember. According to United Nations relief officials, nearly eight million cows, yaks, camels, horses, goats and sheep died, about 17 percent of the country’s livestock. Even if the spring rains arrive soon, 500,000 more animals are expected to succumb in the coming weeks.

“This is not only a catastrophe for the herders but for the entire Mongolian economy,” said Akbar Usmani, the resident representative for the United Nations Development Program. “We expect the ripple effects for months and years to come.”

Nomads flee to the city
The last serious zuds, three consecutive harsh winters between 1999 and 2002, sent thousands of destitute nomads streaming into the capital, Ulan Bator. A decade later, their tattered yurts still crowd bleak neighborhoods on the city’s fringe as the former herders struggle to fit into the modern world. The United Nations estimates that the current disaster may prompt as many as 20,000 herders to abandon their nomadic life and flee to the city.

From MSNBC

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