By Kevin Henderson, KF11, Mongolia
On Tuesday evening the atmosphere in Ulaanbaatar felt festive. It was Women and Children’s Day, offices had been closed all day and the weather had been sunny and unusually warm, reaching a high of 30 degrees Celsius. Even at 10pm, the streets were full of people chatting and strolling about.
It seemed like everyone was in a good mood, but I knew that many Mongolians, particularly those outside of the capital city, were likely not feeling very carefree. I’d just arrived back in the city after using the holiday weekend to travel to the countryside and see some of the spectacular scenery for which Mongolia is renowned. The vast steppes took my breath away. So did valleys full of decaying animal carcasses.
Earlier this year, the previous Kiva Fellow in Mongolia, Beth, wrote here about the summer drought followed by a harsh winter that was causing devastation for Mongolia’s herders. Several months later, the effects of the “dzud” as this weather pattern is called are even worse than expected. 8 million head of livestock, about 17% of the country’s total, have frozen or starved to death and the count is rising.
In an earlier post, I described Mongolia as a rapidly industrializing country, but herders still make up about 30% of the total population of 2.7 million. This winter some of these herders have lost their entire herds. Many of them are also burdened by debt incurred when they purchased emergency feed. Without any other economic opportunities in their remote provinces they are now completely destitute.
The International Red Cross and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) are two aid organizations that have responded to this crisis. The Red Cross is providing food and clothing as well as psychological support and health education. The UNDP has implemented a $1.5 million cash-for-work program that pays herders to properly bury carcasses.
Some people in Mongolia feel the international media have overlooked the dzud crisis, so I was pleased to see a detailed report two weeks ago in the New York Times (this is the source of the unlinked statistics above). The article and video point out that climate change, overgrazing, overpopulation of livestock and the general sustainability of the herder lifestyle are issues that are being examined.
Fortunately, Kiva’s field partners in Mongolia, Xacbank and Credit Mongol, haven’t seen their loan portfolios affected too severely.
Xacbank began slowly restricting loans to herders three years ago because it feared a dzud. In rural areas, businesses that herders patronize, such as grocery stores, are struggling. In Ulaanbaatar, many of the students come from the countryside and because their parents can’t send money, delinquencies are rising for businesses such as stationary shops and cafes.
Credit Mongol hasn’t experienced too much of an impact because it only has two branches in the countryside. Most of its clients in urban areas have been able to make repayments on time.
For now donor aid to help meet basic needs is most appropriate for individuals from the hardest hit areas. However lending to all Mongolian borrowers can help to create further economic activity and opportunities for employment, which is what the 20,000 herders expected to permanently move their gers to the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar this summer are desperately seeking.
A traditional Mongolian ger used by herders
Gers in rural Arkhangai province
Gers dot the hillside around Ulaanbaatar
Kevin Henderson is serving in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia as a member of Kiva Fellows 11th class.