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Bitter Mongolian Winter Threatens Thousands with Hunger - 2003-01-20

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said a fourth successive harsh winter in Mongolia is threatening hundreds of thousands of people with hunger and loss of livelihood. The Red Cross says millions of animals, upon which herders depend, are expected to die this winter from cold and hunger.

The International Red Cross says the past three winters have been followed by severe summer drought. As a result, more than six million head of livestock have died for lack of pasture for grazing.

The Mongolian government estimates that nearly a quarter million additional animals, weakened by the drought, will die during this year's harsh winter.

The Red Cross says the death of these animals will affect more than 665,000 Mongolians who depend on the herds for food, income and transport. Red Cross Spokeswoman Jemini Pandya said that in losing their animals, the people lose their whole way of life. She said tens of thousands of herders have abandoned the rural areas and gone to the cities in search of help.

"For herders who have lost their entire livestock and have had to move into urban areas, it is a complete alienation to their way of life. And they are not equipped with the skills in order for them to get jobs with which they can earn money to buy food. So they are in a pretty serious situation and need help. There is a lot of mental depression as a result," Ms. Pandya said.

The Red Cross is assisting 115,000 people in Mongolia through the winter and spring months. The agency is asking donors to provide nearly three million dollars so it can provide them with supplementary food, warm clothes and boots. The Red Cross is trying to keep the children in school and to maintain the adults' ability to work.

Ms. Pandya said the agency also will provide the herders with radios. "They find the radios really crucial in accessing vital weather information. They are a nomadic people and dependent utterly on their livestock. So, these radios are a crucial link for them for information. And, also for those who are in very very remote areas, these radios provide a vital psychological link with the outside world," she said.

A team of Red Cross workers went to Mongolia in late November to assess the situation. Ms. Pandya said the team saw an increase in the number of destitute families, a rise in stunted growth among malnourished children and increasing levels of depression and mental illness.