The rural, Nomadic ways of Mongolians living in the steppes may be dying out, due to particular weather patterns killing their livestock. Winters in Mongolia bring on a strange, ultra-cold weather phenomenon known as a “Dzud.” They occur when the summer drought combines with the severe winter temperatures. In the past, these dzuds seem to stick to a 5-year cycle but in the past few years, they have increased in frequency. Aid officials warn that nobody pays attention to this silent killer, but the impact is severe. This means serious problems for livestock owners, as dzuds leave thousands of animals dead.

An animal's skull in the snow

In Mongolia, it hasn’t rained since July 2017. The grass is now unable to grow in the steppes during the summer and the grazing animals cannot put on enough weight to withstand the winter. Herders rely on their animals for everything. From the meat, milk, and skins, to the animal waste they burn to heat their homes. Losing their animals can mean a fall into poverty.

A herdsman on a horse next to a pile of animal carcasses

So far this year over a million animals have died from the dzuds. Due to the lack of a support system, the only other choice is to abandon herder life and move to the city for work. Over the last 20 years, the Mongolian capital, Ulaanbaatar, has seen a 70% population increase due to the dzuds.  Mongolian’s Land Law of 1994 entitles every Mongolian to 1.2 acres of land within the limits of urban centers, free of charge, for a term of 15-60 years. The perceived improved living conditions of cities employment and education opportunities helped spur this migration.

Steppe-dwelling Mongolians typically live in “gers” all through the year.  A ger is a traditional tent-like dwelling used by Mongolian people from early times until today. Gers are house-like structures that look like a small yurt.

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Groupings of the gers have made their place on the outskirts of the capital city. The rapid urbanization due to the inability to sustain their past lives in the steppes, is the main cause of these ‘ger’ districts.

Figure 1: Ger district sections. Aqua blue- river basin, bright orange-central ger areas, orange-middle ger areas, yellow-peripheral ger areas, grey-the city, green-green areas/camp zone. Source: Ulaanbaatar City Development Strategy-2020 and Development Trend till 2030.This map of Ulaanbaatar shows the sprawling and extended nature of the ger areas. Those living in the gers face social prejudice as well as increasingly limited access to basic human needs. The prejudice towards people living in these areas continues to cause a social rift in the community. The lack of availability and accessibility of local transportation is one of the most pressing issues for Ulaanbaatar’.Woman with mask in Mongolia

People walk over 1km on roads in horrible conditions just to reach the nearest bus stop or medical facility. Because they are so long and extended, it is hard to get proper services (water, sewer, electricity, even postal service). They use stoves to heat their poorly insulated gers,  as well as cook their 3 meals a day, running them at all hours.  80 percent of all pollution in Ulaanbaatar is caused by ger stoves, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).Pollution in Mongolia

in December it experienced pollution levels five times higher than in Beijing. Trying to survive in the world’s coldest capital is expensive: many throw everything onto the family stove—old shoes, tires, and scrap plastic. Pneumonia caused by the particles in the air is causing the city’s hospitals to fill with sick children, accounting for 15% of all deaths.

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There is no doubt the ger areas are a massive issue for Mongolia’s capital. In 2013 the Mongolian Parliament passed planning to build housing for the increased population in ger areas. Above shows the hopeful future and differences between the regulation city apartments and the unregulated, sprawling ger areas where so many people have come to live in the past few years.

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