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Mongolians Face Winter Hardships - 2003-02-19

In Mongolia a severe winter storm is killing off tens of thousands of livestock, and decreasing food supplies are leading to a possible disaster. Many thousand Mongolians dependent on herding for their livelihood are threatened by this winter crisis. Brian Purchia has more.

The International Red Cross says it has begun food distributions to Mongolian herder families hard-hit by severe winter conditions. In January, the Red Cross appealed for almost three million dollars to assist Mongolian herders with food, warm clothing and boots.

Red Cross Officials say this is the fourth consecutive winter disaster for Mongolia. This follows a severe summer drought. Since 2000, six million livestock have died because of severe cold and snowy winter weather.

Temperatures have plummeted as low as minus 36 degrees Celsius. Along with heavy snowfalls since early November, this winter has taken its toll on both humans and animals. Red Cross Officials say more than 665-thousand people in 17 of Mongolia's 21 provinces have been affected by this winter.

Especially affected are Mongolia’s children, many of whom can barely afford to go to school. France Hurtubise works for the International Federation of Red Cross:

"Many of them will not have any education, they don't see any other choice in the future to become a herder but if the current situation will be the same in the future, like this type of disaster, those children will end up facing the same situation there as their parents."

Illness is spreading throughout Mongolia, the Organization says. Frostbite, respiratory illness and exhaustion are all on the rise. Thousands of Mongolian herders are trying to keep their animals alive all the while trying to survive themselves.

The Red Cross is estimating more than two million animals will perish before the winter ends. The next three months will be critical for the herders.