Bad winter in the UK? We don’t know the half of it.

I’ve spent too much time moaning about the snow this winter. Watching this Sky News coverage reminds me that I don’t know how lucky I am. Right now in Mongolia, a humanitarian disaster is going on.  It’s getting limited media interest, but that doesn’t mean that thousands of people’s lives aren’t being devastated.  We’re responding thanks to our Childrens Emergency Fund.

Mongolia is experiencing what’s known as a ‘dzud’ — a Mongolian term for an extremely snowy winter in which livestock are unable to find fodder through the heavy snow cover, and large numbers of animals die due to starvation and the cold. Temperatures have been at -40 degrees celsius for months and are likely stay frighteningly low until May. This extreme cold has caused the snow to form an inpenetrable layer of ice, cutting off some commmunities for months.  This follows a summer of drought and poor grass harvests, and, sadly, animal fodder stocks are now empty.

Already 2 million livestock have died, and we fear that the situation is likely to worsen in the coming weeks and that a further 3-4 million livestock will die from the extreme cold and lack of food.

Mongolia is the size of Western Europe, but with only around 2.5 million people.  Almost half the population are nomadic herdsmen, completely reliant on the welfare of their animals for survival.  These families define the word resilient — they work extremely hard in one of the toughest environments on the planet.  Families live in ‘gers’ (like yurts), dotted sparesley over this enormous empty land.

Most children go to schools where they board – but the experience is definitely nothing like anything Enid Blyton wrote about.  Many of these schools have no heating, are poorly maintained, don’t have not enough food, and have outside toilets.  And its -40 degrees celsius outside.

Thanks to our Childrens Emergency Fund, Save the Children has been able to respond in Mongolia.  We’re delivering blankets, food, sanitation kits and fuel, and we’re repairing school heating systems to benefit thousands of children living in schools, dormitories and kindergartens.  Our fund is so important for emergencies such as this — we can act, without delay, regardless of media interest.

Mongolia is a country close to my heart as I visited our Save the Children programme there several years ago.  I was amazed by the capable, resilient, playful and kind children who I met.  Children as young as four were taking an important role within their family — herding sheep or caring for horses.  What will their future be without their livelihoods?  How will their families feed and care for them after this?  Is climate change going to make this extreme winter a normal event?

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