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What is a dzud?!?!? It’s the climate change nightmare you need to know about

Photo :UNICEF/NYHQ2010-0455/Cullen.

Chances are you are not a Mongolian pastoralist. If you were, this would be one of your worst winters in living memory. And that’s all because of a local phenomenon known as a “dzud.”

Simply put, a dzud is the local Mongolian term for when a very harsh winter follows a drought plagued summer. This happens periodically in this part of the world, but the winters are becoming harsher, the summer’s dryer—and all with greater frequency.

This year, an extreme drought hit Mongolia over the summer and the amount of hay produced decreased substantially. Now, Mongolia is in the midst of an almost unimaginably cold winter. The temperatures are as low as -28 degrees Celsius (-18 F)  in the day and -40 degrees (celsius and fahrenheit) at night. 

This is a dzud. And when a dzud hits, cattle die. When cattle die, herders lose their livelihoods. 

The last dzud struck in the winter of 2009-2010. Back then, millions of cattle died and tens of thousands of families lost their livelihoods. There was a mass migration to the capitol city of Ulan Battar, where people congregated in slums outside the city. That, in turn, lead to all sorts of problems. “Large scale migration to the cities resulting from loss of livelihood among herders has magnified urban social problems such as unemployment, crime, alcoholism, domestic violence and extreme poverty,” the Red Cross said

This time around, the conditions are even worse. Some 400,000 people could be at risk throughout the country

What does this have to do with you?

The dzud is very much the latest manifestation of our new climate nightmare. It’s in a far off and distant part of the world for most people reading this blog post. But chances are you have more to do with the dzud — and you can do more to stop it— than any Mongolian. 

The average temperature in Mongolia has increased 2.14 degrees celsius over the last seventy years, according to the UN Environment Program. This is about three times faster than the global average. Yet, the country itself is responsible for a tiny amount of global carbon emissions. 

Mongolians are suffering from a problem that is by and large out of their hands to prevent. 

What can you do about it?

For one, support efforts by the Red Cross and others to mitigate the suffering from the dzud. But deeper still, use your voice. Convince policymakers in your country and around the world to support global efforts to mitigate the suffering of people affected by climate change.