Coldest Mongolian winter in decades | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 02.04.2010
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Coldest Mongolian winter in decades

Winters have been getting colder in Mongolia in recent years. According to the Red Cross, 4.5 million head of livestock perished this year. Many nomads are moving away from the steppe to the city but some refuse to go.

It's tough for animals and herders when temperatures go down to -50 degrees

It's tough for animals and herders when temperatures go down to -50 degrees

It is windy in the Mongolian steppe but inside the yurt, it’s nice and snug. Urna stokes the fire with wood and dried dung. She is baking flatbreads on the hot surface and stewing meat in a pot.

Urna lives in the Tuul valley, which is about an hour and a half's drive from the capital Ulan Bator. Her son has a jeep and therefore the family was able to prepare well for the winter. They got enough feed for the cattle, the sheep and the horses, Urna explains.

"It gets colder much earlier than it used to," she says. "This year, the winter came particularly early. It didn’t rain enough during the year and the grass didn’t grow. So we weren’t able to make enough hay. We bought 400 bundles of grass and tons of feed so that we would be ready."

Climate change blamed for harsher winters

However, not all of Mongolia's nomads were able to do this. For many, the winter – with temperatures often as low as minus 50 degrees and long months of ice and snow – ended with disaster.

Urna blames climate change and says she is "very worried about these changes in the environment. Nature is becoming more and more aggressive. If there is a storm, it’s a heavy storm. If it rains, it pours. Not only in Mongolia – there are lots of storms abroad too."

Ulan Bator is one of the fastest-growing cities in the world

Ulan Bator is one of the fastest-growing cities in the world

Although Urna’s closest neighbor is several kilometers away, she knows what’s going on in the world. She has an electric generator and a satellite dish that enable her to listen to radio and watch television in her tent.

The livestock graze just outside the tent where there are also stalls. Urna and her son ensure that the animals are warm and protected.

Livestock has grazed the steppe away

However, this is not always the case. Some three million head have died this winter alone across the country. Climate change and the freezing temperatures are not the only reason – there is also a homemade Mongolian problem.

Mongolia has three million inhabitants but over 40 million heads of livestock. Livestock is a symbol of wealth. But the animals have grazed the steppe away. When they get hungry, they can’t keep warm and then they perish because they are so weak. This is why so many nomads are moving away from the steppe and into the city.

Horses on the plains of Mongolia

Horses on the plains of Mongolia

"We had two or three extremely harsh winters in a row," says Tume, who lives in Ulan Bator. "Many nomads lost all their herd and moved to the city. They are going through a tough time. They don’t have any income and they are not trained to work. Some of them get support from small aid projects, others depend on their families."

Author: Petra Aldenrath / act
Editor: Thomas Baerthlein

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