Success Stories

Zavhan Aimag. Leveraging Science, Preserving Pastoral Livelihoods

Written by: Sofie Fredlund-Blomst, Senior Information Officer at USAID (OFDA)

For centuries, nomadic herders in Mongolia have relied on ecological knowledge and traditional practices to ensure the survival of livestock during extreme winters, known locally as dzuds. Climate change, however, is increasing the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, threatening the sustainability of pastoral livelihoods. From November 2015–April 2016, Mongolia experienced extremely low temperatures and heavy snowfall that adversely affected livestock and livelihoods throughout the country. Compounded by the previous summer's drought, the dzud caused an estimated 1.1 million livestock deaths, affecting nearly 226,000 people or 41 percent of Mongolias herder population, according to the UN.

Since 2013, USAID has supported Mercy Corps to build resilience among herders and local officials in dzud-prone areas of Mongolia. With USAID support, Mercy Corps is training communities, herders, and local authorities in disaster planning, preparation, and response, as well as in livestock-based emergency interventions. Mercy Corps is also working to ensure that communities have access to location-specific pasture data and weather forecasts through a text messaging service.

Although snow accumulations in some of the most severely affected areas— including parts of western Mongolia's Zavhan Province — reached a 50-year high during the 2016 dzud, livestock deaths remained significantly lower than in previous dzuds due to increased preparedness efforts, access to critical pasture and weather information, and timely humanitarian assistance supported by USAID.

Sharavjamts, a nomadic herder in Zavhan, was introduced to the messaging service and several research-based dzud preparedness techniques during a USAID-supported training in his community. The USAID-supported training aimed to both increase access to early warning tools and share a collection of best practices in livestock management—known as the Livestock Emergency Guidelines and Standards toolkit—which, when combined, empowered Sharavjamts to mitigate animal losses during the 2015/2016 dzud. Sharavjamts continues to rely on the message-based system for real-time weather forecasts that inform his daily decisions and shares this vital information with other herders he encounters.

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