Mongolian animal herds are being wiped out by bitter cold and deep snow. Photos: Bitterroot Badger.

By Matthew McDermott, New York, NY  on 02.12.10

What's dzud you ask? Well, it's the Mongolian word for the sort of weather they are now experiencing. Roughly translated by Shambala Sun, it's an unusually dry summer where there isn't enough grass growth to allow herd animals to grow strong, followed by an unusually cold winter (we're talking -55°F at times) with higher than normal snow. It causes huge numbers of cattle to die and brings misery and hardship to the families who herd them. …

This is the worst winter Mongolia has experienced in 30 years. Some 2 million domestic animals have been killed so far. The last time dzud conditions set in, 10-12 million animals died -- and by all accounts this time things are much worse. Hence, predictions have been made that up to half of Mongolia's 40 million cattle may die by the time more temperate conditions take hold, in May.

Here's how the UN has assessed the situation's severity:

Compared with the same period during the last dzud in 2000-2001, dzud 2010 is much more severe in terms of the impact of the disaster on people and livestock, which comprise the backbone of the rural economy. The country's snow coverage is 90%, ranging from 20 cm to 50 cm, reaching 120 cm in the most affected areas. More snow can be expected. Over 70% of the country's territory was affected by drought last summer of 2009, which affected preparation of winter hay. The stocks of hay in the state emergency reserves are inadequate. …

20 Million Mongolian Cattle Could Be Dead by Spring Due to Dzud (UPDATED)

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