“Dzud” Natural Disaster Exacerbates Malnutrition in Mongolia

ULAN BATOR, Mongolia — In 2010 Mongolia was paralyzed by a dzud, a dual natural disaster characterized by a brutal winter and a dry summer. More than a million in livestock perished in the negative forty degrees Celsius temperatures. The herders, which make up nearly half of the country’s sparse population, lost a major source of income and the entire nation suffered from a shortage of meat. Food prices soared and so did the prevalence of malnutrition in Mongolia.
However, damaging winters and malnutrition are not new stories in the country. The recent dzud simply highlighted the severity of malnutrition in Mongolia. Over a third of the country is malnourished, living on less than 68 cents (USD) a day, making Mongolia one of the most malnourished nations.
World Vision has responded with several projects to alleviate Mongolia’s food shortage crisis, including providing herder families with seeds, agriculture training and new lambs and yak calves. World Vision has also provided provisions called “sprinkles.” Sprinkles is a powder providing multiple nutrients, and it can be added to milk and food.

Still, Mongolia’s perennial collapses continue with extreme winters recurring each year, stealing away a hefty portion of the country’s national stocks and leaving the people underfed. Sometimes, emergency international aid is insufficient in the wake of flash disasters. Moreover, education on agriculture is helpful to a select portion of herders since the icy winters leave only 10% of the land farmable.

Improving Mongolia’s food security is pivotal in making Mongolia self-sustainable. Mongolia needs to be prepared to cope with the consequences of a nearly debilitating cold national climate. World Vision’s Arkhangai Food Security Enhancement Project is a step in the right direction. The project teaches families proper planning for the storage of harvested vegetables for winter stock.
Children make up 36 percent of Mongolia’s demographic, meaning children are also hit by the challenges of malnutrition. Many children can only access one meal a day, and that meal is often a meager bowl of soup with flour and potatoes. Aside from health complications such as anemia, rickets and intense weight loss, children also face human rights violations.
As families turn to the city for better financial prospects, parents may withdraw their children from school and expose them to exploitative labor. In some unregulated urban settings, children are introduced to street violence. This lack of education and lack of social security perpetuates the high rate of poverty in Mongolia.
Malnourished pregnant women are also a concern. Lack of proper nutrients put both mother and infant at risk of acute infections.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has launched projects to improve health nutrition training for undergraduates and graduates studying at the Health Sciences University. This is part of the ADB’s plan to reduce child malnutrition in Mongolia.
In order to adeptly combat Mongolia’s climate and to reduce widespread malnutrition, relief aid and economic reform is not enough. Social development and health education for health professionals and ordinary citizens alike is essential.

Carmen Tu

Sources: ABC, ADB, The Borgen Project, World Vision
Photo: Dodlive


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