Since the 1950s, agriculture has developed steadily into one of Mongolia’s most important economic sectors — employing over one third of the nation’s labour force. Rural Mongolian families are typically herders and have maintained their traditional pastoral practices for centuries. Climate hazards, such as dzuds, have always posed a risk to the Mongolian herder lifestyle. Now they are threatening the traditional way of livestock breeding on which most of rural Mongolia relies.
A dzud is a slow-onset disaster that is unique to Mongolia; it is characterized by a summer drought followed by severe weather conditions in winter and spring (during which pasture and water shortages lead to the large-scale death of livestock).
“In 2015 and 2016, a severe dzud destroyed almost 80 per cent of Mongolia’s wheat crop and fodder, and affected 41 per cent of Mongolia’s rural herder population,” explained Badral Tuvshin, the head of the Mongolian National Emergency Management Agency.
To help herder communities prepare for cases of forced migration during the country’s bitterly cold winter IOM, the UN Migration Agency, organized an emergency preparedness simulation exercise in Bulgan and Sukhbaatar aimags (provinces) with Mongolia’s National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).
Two Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) data collections were used as part of the simulation. The DTM is a data collection system developed by IOM, to monitor displacement and identify the needs of displaced people. The data it generates creates maps that can help governments and aid agencies to better respond to humanitarian crises and target people most in need.
As one herder from Khuvgsul Aimag Province said, “dzuds have always been part of our life.” Rural life in Mongolia is dependent on nature and the environment. Even though herders are experienced in strategies to prepare and overcome these natural hardships through their tradition and customs, in recent decades the Mongolian climate has changed dramatically, outstripping herders’ adaptive capacity. These changes in climate have led to desertification, decreasing availability of water sources and the disappearance of grass on traditional pasture lands.
Climate migration is difficult to track. Mongolians move because of multiple reasons including livelihoods, accessibility to services, improved living conditions and family unity. In part, it is these increased incidences of dzuds that force herders to travel greater distances in search of better pasture or that draw rural populations to migrate to urban centres. The volume of this unplanned rural-urban migration is now contributing to overcrowding and environmental damage in urban areas. The data exercise indicated that when dzuds intensify, some areas will become inhabitable and more people will want to move to the city.
The Mongolian simulation was a whole-of-community exercise. It involved some 17,000 members of the public, local government officials, Emergency Commission staff, service providers, Mercy Corps and the Red Cross. It was designed to improve the government’s provision of shelter, water, food, fodder and other necessities to rural households to minimize forced migration during the country’s upcoming winter.
“IOM’s use of DTM in simulation exercises to set up camps and organize mass evacuation will enable the government to improve planning for emergencies and reduce the risk of inadequate and relevant data. DTM will help NEMA to better position our resources,” said NEMA Vice Director Batmunkh Uuganbayar.
IOM assumed the lead role of Camp Coordination and Camp Management (CCCM) Cluster in Mongolia in September 2012. Since then it has been working with government and humanitarian actors on contingency planning for potential disaster scenarios. These have included evacuation plans, which were mainstreamed into the simulation exercise and other emergency response trainings.
In addition to the simulation exercise, a two-day training in the use of the DTM was organized for 43 trainers from Mongolia’s National Emergency Management Agency. The NEMA trainers will share their knowledge with soum (district) level colleagues to improve data collection, processing and assessment. It is hoped that these new capacities will strengthen emergency responses and enhance NEMA’s understanding of population movements and the needs of displaced populations on the move. A further series of trainings for soum DTM focal points is scheduled for December.
These activities are part of a larger collaboration between IOM and the Government of Mongolia. In December 2017 IOM, working with NEMA, launched an 18-month project supported by the IOM Development Fund, to build the capacity of the Government to track climate change and disaster-related migration. It included use of the DTM to monitor population movements caused by slow and rapid onset disasters and climate change.
The project was developed and implemented with the support of the Australian Volunteers Programme. For more information on the project go to: www.iom.int/sites/default/files/country/docs/mongolia/iom-mongolia-idf-project-factsheet-2017-2019.pdf
Visit the IOM Environmental Migration Portal for more on the migration, environment and climate change nexus.
This story was written by the IOM team in Mongolia — Oyunbileg Rentsendorj, Zuzana Jankechova — with support from Scott Cann, Jessica Farr and the Australian Volunteers Program.