Saturday, February 13, 2010

UNICEF: Severe winter ‘dzud’ pushes most of Mongolia to disaster status

UNICEF intensifies efforts to reach children in the hardest hit rural areas

ULAANBAATAR, MONGOLIA 12 February 2010 – In response to weeks of freezing temperatures and heavy snows have left more than half of Mongolia’s 21 provinces in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, UNICEF has mobilized to help children and families, addressing their most urgent humanitarian concerns, including food, fuel for heating and cooking, blankets, and warm clothing.

The Government of Mongolia has declared disaster status in 12 provinces, with a further seven provinces predicted to move to disaster status shortly as temperatures continue to hover around -40 Celsius and further heavy snow is expected.

The children’s agency is working close collaboration with other UN agencies, including UNFPA, FAO and UNDP, with the Government of Mongolia and major NGOs, to gear up a significant humanitarian response and coordinated the response to the challenges of this unfolding emergency.

These winter conditions, known locally as a dzud, are likely to continue beyond April, and the severity of the coming months will determine the unfolding extent of the humanitarian and food security efforts needed.

While the people of Mongolia are used to cold winter conditions, it is the combination of a severe summer drought, where little fodder was generated, and severely cold temperatures that harden heavy snow which have crippled the rural population largely reliant on herding and agriculture.

So far, the dzud has killed more than two million livestock, devastated the livelihoods of families in the agriculture sector, which employs 35 – 40 per cent of the population, and isolated herders and villages from accessing food, fuel and medical care.

In the previous dzud of 2001, not considered as severe as the current one, Mongolia suffered a deepening of poverty and lowered GDP, raised chronic malnutrition levels, and watched a massive influx of the rural population to the peri-urban areas around the capital city of Ulaanbaatar.

The Government has appealed to the local and international community for urgent support to reach the herders with fodder, fuel, medicines, food and warm clothing.

UNICEF has already responded to a call for support from the Ministry of Education for urgent attention to failing heating systems and limited food supplies in 18 school dormitories where children are housed, facing difficulties to return to their families due to the dangerous travel conditions. A convoy to some of the villages in the worst affected areas will shortly deliver food, fuel, blankets, hygiene kits, and boots to vulnerable poor families.

“This is an unfolding emergency, said Rana Flowers, the UNICEF Representative in Mongolia. “Of most recent and most urgent concern is evidence that babies and young children are dying because they cannot access the medical treatment from trained personnel that they need.”

“The UN is acutely aware of the need to reach increasingly isolated populations with fuel and medicines, to get those in need out to trained medical care and to provide hygiene kits to stem the spread of disease, to ensure safe delivery and newborn care and to prevent the deepening of chronic malnutrition in this country.”

Information from the Ministry of Health received today confirms that 9 young children have died in recent days in one province alone. The figures from other provinces are not yet available.

“Vulnerability to disease is heightened for those children living in dormitories and in poor households in villages where the heating is not working, the fuel is insufficient and where food is in short supply. There are over 22,000 children in 265 dormitories in need of urgent assistance, but this number grows every few days as the severe conditions spread across the rest of the country widening the net cast by the disaster,” Flowers said.

As the severity of winter conditions spread across the country, as many as 492 additional dormitories will need assistance with more than 41,078 children in their care. Over the last few days, the Mongolian National Emergency Management agency (NEMA) has indicated that several villages are facing diminishing supplies of fuel for heating and cooking. In some cases, the villages only have enough fuel for three or four more days.

Even in non-emergency times, access to clean water and adequate sanitation are significant areas of concern for Mongolia. Once a thawing begins in the spring, the impact of dead animals and generally poor sanitation practices are predicted to result in a further spread of disease.

UNICEF says it faces a critical need for an additional USD 400,000 for medical supplies, equipment, micronutrients, and hygiene interventions as well as $322,000 to reach the growing number of affected communities with other life saving interventions.

As Mongolia moves into the spring, food security concerns will increase and the response will need to be well coordinated. In addition to the ongoing humanitarian efforts, child protection and psychosocial support will also be needed as families struggle with the overwhelming emotional and psychological impact of their losses and to handle difficult migration to burgeoning peri-urban areas where access to water and sanitation and basic social services will be severely limited.

For further information, please contact:

Bolor Purevdorj, Communication Specialist, ;

Tel + 976 11 312 183; / + 976 11 312 185

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