The Red Cross has appealed for nearly $1 million to help thousands of Mongolians who have lost their herds during a severe drought and harsh winter.
About one-tenth of Mongolia's livestock, an estimated 4.5 million animals, have perished leaving herders desperate for food and other emergency relief.
"Thousands of families have lost their entire flocks of animals, and these are among the poorest and the most vulnerable herders," the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said on Monday.
"We need to ramp up our assistance to help these families get through the next few months and also to see what their longer term options are."
The IFRC have been distributing food, blankets and warm clothing to 1,200 of the worst-affected families.
But it is seeking $935,000 to help a further 3,400 herder families find alternative means to survive, cope with depression and stress, and learn basic health education.
"It is so hard to have nothing left and I'm so happy to see people coming to help us," Tsendjav Lkhagvasuren, a herder, said.
Long, severe winter
A phenomenon known in Mongolian as a 'Dzud' - severe summer drought followed by heavy snow and extremely low winter temperatures - has affected 19 of Mongolia's 21 provinces.
|The 'Dzud' is a period of drought followed by heavy snow and low temperatures [Reuters]
"This winter has been exceptionally long – it started at the beginning of October and it is continued even now", Togtokhsuren, the governor of the affected Uvurkhangai province, said.
Approximately one-quarter of Mongolia's three million people are nomads, while others raise livestock in fixed settlements.
Many incur high levels of debt to buy and raise their herds, in the hope of making the money back by selling wool, meat and skins.
The damage to the rural economy caused by the Dzud could increase demands on Mongolia's already-stretched national budget, which relies on mining revenues to meet spending commitments.
Around 63 per cent of Mongolia's rural residents' assets are livestock and at least 35 per cent of the population earn a living from their animals, a World Bank report said.
Half of Mongolians live in the capital, Ulaan Baator, and many herders who lose their animals drift into the city, where they live in poor conditions.
Previous severe winters between 1999 and 2003 drove hundreds of thousands into the outskirts of the capital.
The IFRC fears thousands more internal migrants this time will cause further strain on already strained social safety nets.