Helping Mongolian herders to protect their animals

In this blog, Cathy discusses how the Livestock Emergency Guidelines and Standards (LEGS) is helping to protect livestock against dzuds in Mongolia.

A third of Mongolia’s population are nomadic herders and depend on sheep, goats, yaks, camels and horses. These animals provide them with meat and milk to eat, manure for fuel, and hides and skins which they sell to buy food and pay children's school fees. These animals are vital to both their lives and their livelihoods.

Around every five to ten years Mongolia suffers from a dzud, an extremely severe winter with exceptionally low temperatures. There are several types of dzud, including the ‘white dzud’ when deep layers of snow prevent animals from grazing; the ‘iron dzud’ when a temporary warming then re-freezing leaves a layer of impenetrable ice; and the ‘cold dzud’ with persistent cold temperatures and strong winds. In spite of the efforts of herders, who work hard to protect their livestock, often bringing the weakest into their tents and saving money to buy hay or other animal feed, many animals die from starvation or cold. The most recent dzud in 2016 killed over a million animals.[1]

Dzuds are often preceded by summer drought, which causes a shortage of grazing going into the winter. It does however give an early warning to government and aid agencies that a dzud may be approaching. Another warning sign is the rapid fall in the price of meat when herders anticipate a harsh winter and start to sell the animals that they don’t think will make it through. The government and aid agencies can use these indicators to prepare for such events and develop plans to support the herders.

The LEGS approach- based on experience and learning

LEGS – the Livestock Emergency Guidelines and Standards – can help with this. Based on experience and learning from around the world, the LEGS Approach seeks to build on the knowledge and skills of livestock keepers and helps aid agencies and governments to prioritise the most appropriate activities to support them. These range from providing animal feed, water, health care and shelter, to restocking communities with animals to replace those lost, once the crisis is over.

The LEGS Handbook offers guidelines, participatory tools and checklists for each of these technical areas, to help development workers to give high quality support to livestock keepers affected by crisis. Planning for disaster is a key aspect of the LEGS Approach. The participatory tools enable community groups and local authorities to draw up plans together in preparation for future crises.

Mercy Corps, the international humanitarian and development organization, is working in 15 aimags on a project, funded by USAID, that aims to reduce the impact of dzud by strengthening the capacity of local communities and building weather information systems. As part of this project, Mercy Corps has been working with the Mongolian National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) to train local officials in the LEGS Approach. Mercy Corps organised a Training of Trainers course for NEMA staff, who then trained Aimag (Provincial) staff, who in turn trained Soum (County) staff to deliver training on LEGS and disaster planning in 60 Soums. As a result of this cascade approach, over 1,300 community members and local government staff from 60 Soums across 13 of Mongolia’s 21 Aimags were trained in the LEGS Approach.

Following the training courses, 54 Soums revised their disaster preparedness plans to better respond to dzud and the provincial NEMA departments have since approved them.

This Mercy Corps initiative shows how the LEGS Approach can be used to improve planning for future crises, working with local communities and government structures from national to local level. With the impact of climate change increasing the frequency and severity of dzuds in Mongolia – and other disasters such as drought in other parts of the world – the need for this type of preparedness is increasingly important.

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-35983912 

For further information on LEGS, see the LEGS website: www.livestock-emergency.net