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A Decade of Dzud: Lessons From Mongolia's Deadly Winters
"So for people. Who Don't know I totally know where is Mongolia? Mongolia is in Central Asia right between Russia and China. The landscape to me looks a little bit like a mixture between Montana and Mars if you can picture that delightful so this this time last year before you were short waves reporter. You don't like to think about that time. You went to Mongolia it's true. Why would one go to Mongolian winter all the travel guides discourage discourage it? I might discourage it but I purposely went there then because winter is at the heart of this whole story. So how cold are we talking here. It's super cold. uh-huh freeze your nose. Harris cold I actually had to tape. Hand warmers all over my microphone so it wouldn't freeze. Wow it is cold. Oh I found this piece of tape tape of me complaining about it minus eighteen degrees right now. This is really cool. I could tell me what you say. Cool coach it wasn't acting but some types of winters are so extreme matty that they actually have an official name so in Mongolian. It's called a zoo would that's when a winter tur- is so bad. It kills significant number of livestock in Mongolia or one out of four people make their living hurting. That has huge consequences. I mattie Safai and I'm Emily Kouanga today in the show. We had to Mongolia to learn about the brutal winters known as and how these natural disasters have changed enjoyed countries way of life okay so Mongolia is periodically affected by this extreme weather event. That happens in the winter called. What does this look like? Yeah so tender standard. I wanted to meet someone directly impacted. Divide it this man named Roy Eaton Gacek. He's a father of four super good bad Santa could do prates daughter's hair getting get somebody for school and everything. He was born a herder in eastern Mongolia and in January. Two Thousand Oilman as he tells it woke up at sunrise to check on his animals. Snow had fallen in the night about a foot. They were writing out a bad winter storm and he was really worried about is heard so how he cracked the door of his gear. Those are these circular felt cover tents that herders living and it was eerily quiet outside blindingly finding Lee white from all this snow. What did you see when he opens the door? Do not with this new household off. He's Carcass Saas new. Shut us a dozen of his sheep. Goats had died in the night. Those still alive yet about one hundred animals at the time. We're trying to find grassy but the land was literally locked in by snow. The hotel does ndas and it was really difficult to see this. He Sang. It was horrifying and it happened. Every few days boyens animals would succumb to starvation. Illness exposure and by the end of the winter he essentially lost his entire heard the type of food that came to his doorstep. It's called Saga which Mongolian means white death. While I think a loss at this level I imagine it's not purely financial absolutely I mean this. This isn't the same but there are dairy farmers in my family and you kind of like build relationship with your cows you literally like have them from birth to death so I have imagine it would be devastating like on multiple levels if you just slowly lose them over time right. They're not just economic assets and the loss of those animals is a social loss. It's spiritual loss experts. I spoke to in Mongolia. Described as a slow onset natural disaster different from a rapid rapid onset natural disaster like a hurricane or earthquake. So how many other herders were affected by the white death that year that year the two thousand six it claimed claimed about three and a half million livestock. Wow quite a bit law. It's eleven percent of the national hurt. And when you consider that at the time one out of every two households made their living hurting. It's significant begin. Animals represent wealth. So it would be as if your life savings were too slowly disintegrate. So what did the herders actually do in response Some rebuilt their heard those who could but others who lost everything they left gave up hurting fled the countryside seeking jobs in in urban areas uprooting. Their lives are good hurting Dad Johansen hair braided guy. He was one of those who left. Almost your short could the mother oh well many migrated. He's saying because it was impossible to make a living and it shows in the population and barter that's Mongolia's capital it has has tripled in the past thirty years exploded. Zid is one of the many migration drivers bringing people to the city. And I could see this when I lived there. I was reporting reporting and living in his apartment building and I looked off my balcony window. The hills were just covered in Gares. Those felt covered tents that herders live in. It was a picture. Sure of all of these people who had moved to the city and settled there and the city. Just couldn't contain all the new arrivals or does it still happening as it. On this scale that hits every corner of the country not that common prior to two thousand had happened about once a decade but was weird about two thousand is. It happened the next year and the next year and again again in two thousand ten so by the end of the decade there were forces and twenty one million livestock died in that period it totally overwhelmed Mongolian people that government tens of thousands of families packed up and left. That's that is horrifying of what is going on. Like what is causing US okay. So it's tempting to blame climate change and that is in fact the biggest culprit in this whole affair. Mongolia is indeed a warmer drier. Replace than it was eight years ago. But what I found is that zoot is actually caused by cocktail of other factors like over-grazing and deforestation. Basically quickly anything that destroys. The grassland is bad for animals. You need that grassland lending food it's a goat's buffet table and to not have it sets them up for good because this summer is a time when they fatten up. And if the grass is gone from drought or other things they're even more vulnerable when the winter is bad. Oh little bit of science here yes. The drought okay. Means less grassland and in Mongolia less grassland creates even more drought vicious cycle. Yeah because Mongolia. It's land locked all right. So the vast majority of precipitation rain snow. It comes from the land it comes from the grass. Water is transpired by plants into the atmosphere so so without grass Mongolia is even drier so given all of this is hurting still considered a good way to make a living in Mongolia. I think Mongolians are trying to figure that out. There's fewer herders but they're better prepared and trying to manage the Paschel and more sustainably local communities training herders to brace for a bad winter. Do things like make extra. Hey for their animals to eat. Purchase Livestock Insurance and pool there resources so the individual costs aren't so high all right so that that sounds great but are herders still kind of on edge. Are they like Shariq. Dowd anticipating the next. You know so I used to report in Rural Alaska inefficient community and herders. They kind of remind me of fishermen they know they're at the mercy of the weather but they're very tough and resourceful within their own lives and herders are doing the same. They're trying to make the most of what they have. They're kind of cultural heroes for practicing this way of life. That's become increasingly less common in the state. Broadcaster actually gives these awards to the best herders in in the nation. Please tell me you went to a best herder award ceremony absolutely went to a buzzer award ceremony. The championship herder. Who I met in the province was this man named near Goo Davidoff and I talked to him right after he got his award? Lord of host was also he was practical. Nature is unpredictable. It's harder there's less rain. Animals can't get fat but if we prepare extra hey. We can overcome such natural disasters. We don't have to be afraid this spring their animal's gave birth to hundreds of babies. I went back to visit during the birthing season in March. This pen is just full like a hundred lambs. Just these tiny little cotton balls near to make us feel better about this. Do you mind no. I just don't appreciate being manipulated. I wanted to show you the opposite right so not death life and what it signals for the next generation of herders. Who are continuing to do this? I'm picking up what you're putting down on. Thank you all right. I'm Lequan thank you for bringing us the story.