White disaster in Mongolia: 90% of regions face extreme weather "high risk"

author:Global Village Observations
White disaster in Mongolia: 90% of regions face extreme weather "high risk"

© UNICEF/Andrew Cullen。 In the remote rural areas of Khovdor province in western Mongolia, people use sticks to find their way through knee-high snow. (Document)

Several UN agencies have reported that Mongolia's ongoing "white disaster" has reached a "severe" level – i.e., "white" and "iron" – and that more than 90% of the country is at high risk of this unique weather phenomenon.

According to the Office of the UN Resident Coordinator in Mongolia, some 190,000 pastoralist families are facing inadequate feed, soaring prices and increased vulnerability.

Grazing and raising livestock has always been an integral part of Mongolia's economy, culture and way of life. It is estimated that Mongolia has more than 64 million livestock this winter.

According to the latest information from the Office of the Resident Coordinator in Mongolia this week, "Increasingly severe weather conditions have further exacerbated the crisis, highlighting the urgent need for humanitarian assistance and sustainable solutions to support rural communities and traditional livelihoods".

This is the second year in a row that the country has faced such a dire situation. Last winter, about 70% of the area was affected.

What is White Calamity?

The White Plague is a slow-onset disaster unique to Mongolia, an extreme winter characterized by freezing weather and heavy snowfall, making it impossible for livestock to reach pastures.

Prior to these weather conditions, summers were often dry and pasture was just as scarce, leaving livestock unable to store the fat needed for the winter.

According to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), the frequency and intensity of white disasters have increased since 2015 due to the worsening effects of climate change and poor environmental governance.

This winter's white plague is "white" and "iron". It is characterized by very deep snow, known as "white", which prevents livestock from approaching pastures, and at the same time, a short thaw is followed by a severe cold that locks the pastures in ice, known as "iron".

Children are at risk

More than 258,000 people, including more than 100,000 children, have been affected by heavy snow that has blocked roads, according to UNICEF. These affected children are denied access to vital health, nutrition, education and social services.

According to UNICEF, pastoralist families most directly affected by the white disaster often have to leave their children in the care of relatives or boarding schools, increasing protection risks and causing psychological stress.

Affected areas are in dire need of funding in February-March this year to clear roads, provide medicines, and provide radios to support remote learning.


The Government of Mongolia has activated the Emergency Operations Centre and designated the Deputy Prime Minister to lead and coordinate the response.

In anticipation of a white disaster in Mongolia this year, UNICEF has distributed 120 emergency medical kits, 20 health kits and Safe Haven child protection kits to the provinces.

UNICEF also has 555 health kits available for distribution and is procuring 20 integrated health kits to support the response, including vitamin D for young children.

UNICEF will also support the distribution of portable digital audio devices with pre-installed audio lessons to pastoralist families with school-age children to ensure continuity of learning.

White disaster in Mongolia: 90% of regions face extreme weather "high risk"
White disaster in Mongolia: 90% of regions face extreme weather "high risk"

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