Thousands of Mongolian herders face disastrous livestock losses from dreaded severe weather known as the "dzud", the Red Cross said Thursday in launching an international emergency aid appeal.
Landlocked Mongolia is grappling for the second straight year with losses from dzud conditions -- a dry summer followed by bitter winter cold that leaves livestock and other animals at risk of starvation and exposure on the country's rugged steppes.
It threatens tens of thousands of herders in a country where almost half the population depends entirely on livestock for food, transportation and income, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said.
Cattle, sheep and other animals usually die en masse in the dzud, weakened by insufficient summer grazing that prevents them building up the fat reserves necessary to withstand winter temperatures, which can plummet as low as -50 degrees Celsius (-58 degrees Fahrenheit).
"In spring, animals give birth and when the livestock are already exhausted from the winter they are at high risk without adequate feed, shelter and veterinarian care, which does not exist in some remote areas of the country,” Nordov Bolormaa, secretary-general of the Mongolian Red Cross said in a statement.
As of early February, more than 42,546 livestock animals had already perished in the current dzud, the statement said, citing official Mongolian figures.
"This figure is expected to grow exponentially in the months ahead when a long harsh spring takes hold after the extremely cold winter," the Red Cross said.
It added that more than 157,000 people are "at risk" across 17 of Mongolia’s 21 provinces.
Hundreds of thousands of livestock are reported to have died in the 2015-16 dzud.
The relief organisation hopes to raise enough to assist 11,000 of the hardest-hit households, including provision of cash grants, first-aid kits, and funds to help communities prepare for future dzuds.
During the winter of 2015-16, many people sold off their live animals, causing a market oversupply that depressed prices and hurt many of the most vulnerable small herders, said Gwendolyn Pang of the IFRC in Beijing.
She said "many will lose their livelihoods and will have no choice but to migrate to slum areas" outside the capital Ulan Bator or other urban centres.
A 2009-2010 dzud brought the most severe winter in memory, leaving dead, frozen animal carcasses strewn across pastoral areas.
At least eight million livestock animals died, according to official estimates.
Thousands of Mongolia households lead a nomadic existence as herders amid Mongolia's vast plains and mountains, and recurring dzud conditions are blamed for forcing many into a marginalised urban existence in Ulan Bator.