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Assessing the impact of acting in anticipation of Dzud in Mongolia

Collaborating to understand the value of early action in Mongolia

  • by Edward Parkinson
  • 07 Jul 19

Pic: Start Network, Ed Parkinson

Blog Post

For nomadic herder families in the Mongolian grasslands, living in extreme conditions is the norm. Anticipating how changes in the weather and environment will impact their lives is key. However, when it comes to Dzud, the Mongolian term for a bitterly cold winter weather phenomenon, the impact can be greater than many are able to prepare. Historically harsh Dzud’s have led to devastating deterioration and loss of livestock; for instance in 2009–2010 livestock numbers were affected by 9.7 million animals or 20% during a single Dzud event.

Such a fatal depletion happens when a summer drought limits pasture land, followed by a severe winter, leaving the already thin livestock to burn through their fat reserves or freeze. In a country where the primary livelihood is livestock and agriculture accounts for 13.2% % of the economy a harsh Dzud can have a devastating impact.

As with many crises, Dzud can be forecasted using the right tools, resources and analysis, and the impacts on livelihoods can be mitigated when early action is taken. Through the Start Fund , Start Network members can access funding early to act in anticipation of crises - mitigating the crisis impact and save lives- at a smaller cost than traditional response interventions.

In December 2018, the Start Fund allocated £200,000 to Save the Children and World Vision after being alerted by agencies to the anticipation of a harsh winter in 4 Mongolian provinces. Within 72 hours funds had been allocated, and agencies went on to provide multipurpose cash, livestock fodder and a booklet on child protection in emergencies to vulnerable herder households.

Newborn goats in Khovd province

Keen to learn about the impact of the intervention, World Vision Mongolia, Save the Children Mongolia and the Start Fund Anticipation team conducted a collaborative impact assessment. Together we trialled the drought risk financing measurement framework designed to test the value of acting early. Alongside measuring the impact of the projects, the study was designed to provide a richer picture of the different actions herders take at different times to prepare for, and cope with, a harsh winter and capture the costs of this. We focused on collecting information which could inform future programming in addition to helping understand the impact of the January project.

On the ground: In Mongloia 

 I travelled with colleague Sarah Barr, Crisis Anticipation Technical Advisor for Evidence and Learning, to Ulaanbataar where we met with the frontline staff implementing the awarded actvities of the anticipatuon alert, and other early action practitioners in the country. 

Research team induction

Despite delays (due to an unforeseen Spring snow storm of course!) we made it across the famously breathtaking vast expanse of Mongolia, to two Western provinces with researchers from World Vision and Save the Children. Coordinating through the local government we travelled between current locations of herder households, interviewing herders and distributing hygiene and awareness kits. We were warmly welcomed into their Gers - portable round dwellings traditionally used by Mongolian nomads - with kind offers of milk tea, where we conducted the interviews.

A Ger in Erdenebüren Soum

One hundred and eighty nine interviews were collected, 105 from those who received assistance and 94 from those who did not,  alongside interviews with local lenders, traders, national and local stakeholders including the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Light Industry; National Emergency Management Agency; National Agency for Meteorology and Environmental Monitoring and the Mongolian Red Cross Society; UN FAO and Mercy Corps. The interviews brought out just how extreme the conditions of families can be. We heard reports of winter as cold as -60c, the difficulties described by herders in some cases clearly moved the researchers, many of whom also delivered the alert activities.

Words from the frontline 

While we wait for the results to fully understand any impacts of alert 284’s early action for Dzud, anecdotally the timeliness of the programming was noted by herder families. Zagila Bekvan, 66 year old, was filled with gratitude at the agencies timely actions: 

 “Our family received the assistance at exact right time in January. Thank you very much for providing us with cash and fodder. We survived this harsh winter with less loss of livestock because of this support”.

Zagila Bekvan, 66 years old

Read more about Start Fund Anticipation

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  • by Edward Parkinson