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Inner Mongolia's Herders and Farmers Suffer from Drought - 2001-08-08

Red Cross officials in China say Inner Mongolia's herders and farmers face another difficult year ahead, as this summer's drought compounds problems lingering from last winter's terrible blizzards.

China's Inner Mongolia region has had its share of problems. Last winter too much precipitation, in the form of howling, bitter, snow blizzards, killed millions of livestock.

Now a shortage of precipitation in some parts of Inner Mongolia endangers the surviving herds and the people who depend on them for food and a livelihood.

Hler Gudjonsson of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, says the drought is keeping many of the surviving herds from eating and fattening up to make it through the region's ever-worsening winters. "The drought is preventing the grass from growing properly. And that will have consequences in the winter as the animals will have difficulties in fattening themselves and there will be less grass to graze on during the winter," he continued. "When the grass is not growing. It is very likely that the combination of these factors will cause a continuation of the disaster during next winter," Gudjonsson said.

He says the traditional herders who make up about 10 percent of Inner Mongolia's population have been particularly hard-hit by the weather problems. But he says the area's farmers are now also being badly hurt as drought reduces their crop yields. "In many cases, people have nothing to support themselves, neither animals nor crops. And not even the possibility of getting a job in the neighborhood," Gudjonsson said.

Mr. Gudjonsson says it appears likely that the Red Cross and Red Crescent, along with the Chinese government, may have to help feed some of Inner Mongolia's most vulnerable people again next winter.

He says global warming is probably to blame for the weather changes that have brought the difficult combination of colder winters and dryer summers over the past few years. But he says the problems are compounded by over-grazing, that is, trying to feed too many animals on dry, fragile lands that can support only small herds.

The Chinese press report that Beijing is addressing the problem by encouraging hundreds of thousands of people to move to less ecologically fragile lands inside Inner Mongolia.