Thousands of nomadic Mongolian herders are facing impoverishment after the onslaught of a bitter cold winter which has decimated their livestock.
An estimated 4.5 million animals have perished on the freezing Mongolian steppes depriving families of their only source of income.
Heavy snowfalls have cut off access to grazing and fodder which has left a tenth of the country’s animals dying from starvation.
The damage done to the rural economy has prompted the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to launch an emergency appeal to raise money for devastated families.
Francis Markus, communications delegate for the Red Cross in East Asia said: “Thousands of families, mostly coming from the poorest and most vulnerable layers of the herder population have lost their entire flocks of animals and have been left in a very, very distraught and very, very desperate state.”
It is feared the harshest winter for many years could force herders to abandon their traditional way of life and move into the shanty towns or “ger” districts in urban suburbs.
Roughly a quarter of Mongolia’s population of three million make their living from selling wool, meat and skins.
Many of them – having borrowed money to buy and raise their herds – are deep in debt and have become reliant on sporadic government handouts to make ends meet.