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Appeal for Mongolia herder families

About 10 per cent of the country's livestock has died since December in a severe cold snap that has brought temperatures as low as -40 centigrade. The Red Cross is appealing for £630,00 to help those affected. Thousands of families have lost everything and thousands face hunger as extreme cold and snow continues to devastate the country's nomadic herder communities An area called Uvurkhangai, where almost one million animals have died is the worst hit part of the country.

The appeal is to help 13,600 Mongolians in 3,400 families, most of whom lost all their livestock over the winter, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said. "The needs are steadily growing as more and more herders face up to the reality that many of their animals are dying. More and more people are left distraught and increasingly destitute," said Ravdan Samdandobji, head of the Mongolian Red Cross. The winter disaster, or "dzud" in Mongolian, was "still unfolding as the cold and lack of food claims many newborn animals," the organisation said. "Many nomadic herders' coping mechanisms are exhausted as their way of life comes increasingly under threat," it added.

Chumedtseren Galsaikhan’s family have lost 800 of their 900 animals. "Every day when we wake up we have the same fear,” she told the BBC. “How many have died overnight?" Sometimes she and her husband are frightened to check. "If we lose all our animals we'll have lost everything," she said. Relief efforts by the Mongolian Red Cross and IFRC were already "well under way" and had given food, blankets and warm clothing to 1,200 of the worst hit families. "This is a chronic issue that is having a long-term social impact. We are not just dealing with the immediate emergency, we are trying to boost people's ability to cope in the future," said Daniel Bolanos Gonzalez of the IFRC's Asia-Pacific disaster management unit. "When you lose your animals, you lose your livelihood and it can be a rapid slide into poverty without any support," Gonzalez said, adding that the Red Cross would help some families to find alternative livelihoods.

The harsh weather left animals unable to feed because of deep, frozen snow covering the grassland of the vast landlocked nation. About one-third of Mongolia's 2.7 million people rely only on farming, keeping some 43.6 million head of cattle, sheep, goats, horses and camels.

 By Hayley Jarvis for SOS Children