Stories by Patrick Nicholson
Photos by Katie Orlinsky
Mongolians use the anklebones of goats and sheep to tell their fortunes. Each side of the bone represents either sheep, goat, camel or horse. You roll them like dice and how they fall so decides your destiny.
The fate of Mongolia’s legendary nomads living in the Land of the Eternal Blue Sky and the animals they herd is looking increasingly sealed. Winter in Mongolia is turning evermore long and bitterly cold. Summer is becoming shorter and more parched. This leaves animals without enough food and the herding way of life without a future.
A dzud is an emergency related to extreme cold or snow. “Animals freeze or starve because they can’t graze. Thousands can be lost in a day,” says Fr. Pierrot Kasemuana, director of Caritas Mongolia. “The dzud is a whispering emergency, it doesn’t kill a lot of people but it causes a lot of harm. Before, it was once in a generation, now it is every year.”
Herders are packing up their ger tents and moving to the towns, especially the capital Ulaanbaatar, where poverty and pollution await them.
Darkness ahead for Mongolians in Land of Eternal Blue Sky
Income of a herder household
Herders have only their animals as unique source of income. Davaadorj explains home economics of a family of herders,“If you have 200 animals, 40 will be babies, 20 will be male, 50 you need to sell to buy food and clothing, 30 you eat and that leaves 60 that you need to multiply. Then the wolves kill some every year,” With cold winds coming from Siberia, temperatures drop to below -50 C. Animals freeze or starve because they can’t graze. Thousands can be lost in a day.
Living expenses in the city (Ulaanbataar)
Once the nomadic herders lose their animals, they have no income, they can’t repay their bank loans and they go bankrupt. They leave the countryside for the city. Or parents send their children away to school, and the children never come back.
Caritas has centres providing skills training to women, primary education for the children of marginalised families such as single mothers, agricultural support with greenhouses and family gardens in the suburbs growing nutritional food, and social integration for migrants returning from Europe.
Help people in Mongolia prepare better for next dzud