Monday, June 14, 2010

Zud- A natural disaster or a portent of climate change?


The first wildflowers are out in Mongolia but....



The magnificent wild horses looked thin and threadbare this year when I dropped into Mongolia on the way north. At first I thought it was simply a natural consequence of coming a little earlier than I did last time, but it seems that things are far worse than that.
A Zud occurs when there has been a drought followed by a particularly harsh winter. This year it was so severe that more than 17% of the national herd died. The Gobi is littered with dead animals and many herders have lost their livelihood, swelling the ranks of the unemployed in the capital, Ulaan Bataar.

Blue Prayer flags adorn a tree near the spring sacred to Chinggis Khan. Usually a source of the sweetest water it is now little more than a mud puddle

Pessimists see these phenomena as a harbinger of climate change which could permanently threaten the nomadic pastoral life which has sustained Mongolia's diverse tribes for thousands of years. Like many countries in middle latitudes, greater extremes of climate are predicted, along with expansion of the Gobi desert, rather than simply a few degrees of warming which would perhaps not be entirely unwelcome in a country which regularly experiences temperatures in the -40 range.
However, when this is accompanied by already high variability in a country with only 1% of its land suitable for agriculture (http://www.photius.com/countries/mongolia/climate/mongolia_climate_climate.html) any further change in weather patterns can only be seen as a disaster. Indeed, in some quarters it is thought that Mongolia is already manifesting signs of climate change, not just seasonal variation.


A minor dust storm gathers around Dadal near the birthplace of Chinggis Khan.

While aid now flows from the UN for victims of the latest disaster, the question remains as to whether this is a temporary event or an early manifestation of climate change.





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