Action Against Hunger warns of poor food security in Mongolia
Since the overnight transition from a command economy to a market economy at the end of the 1990s, Mongolia, an ex-Communist country, has seen its state infrastructure crumble, while unemployment in its urban centres has risen continuously.
At the same time, Mongolia has seen several consecutive years of unprecedented extreme climate conditions, with harsh winters (called "dzüüd"), followed by dry summers. This has had a devastating impact on the country's cattle population, thus depriving the rural population of its food security. This has, in turn, resulted in domestic migration from the rural areas to the already deprived urban areas that are incapable of catering for the excluded: "Countless cattle-breeders who have lost their livelihoods are trying to settle in the towns, mostly in vain. The country is not at all prepared for natural disasters," says Luc Verna, Action Against Hunger's Head of Mission of in Mongolia.
Hence, the most vulnerable or marginalized families are increasingly concentrating in Ulan Bator. "Living conditions are deteriorating, first in the rural areas, and then in the cities, with real impoverishment in the cities and social disintegration."
These parts of the population are marginalized by the country's authorities and are excluded from the national statistics in order to give the false impression of strong economic growth (with an increase of 5% in 2003) and not to spoil the image of an idyllic tourist destination.
Authorities fail to cater for basic needs
The humanitarian aid organization Action Against Hunger | ACF International, which has been working in Mongolia since October 2001, is aiming to reduce the nutritional impact of poverty in Ulan Bator and providing cattle-breeders in the far western province of the country with resources to enable them to cope with the risk of extreme climate conditions and natural disaster in order to halt the rural exodus. As this winter is going to be yet another extremely harsh one in Mongolia, with temperatures as low as -40°C, Action Against Hunger is once again opening soup kitchens for the marginalized parts of the population of Ulan Bator, such as the homeless, street children, the unemployed and the retired, with 300 to 600 hot meals served every day until April next year.
Throughout the summer, Action Against Hunger focuses on the development of market gardens in the nearby outskirts of the capital, a deprived area bordering on the steppe, in order to diversify the range of food supplies and to generate a small income to cater for the basic needs of this population. At the same time, Action Against Hunger runs porridge distributions all year round, to fight against malnutrition in children.
In the rural areas in the Western part of the country, a programme has been put in place in order to increase the ability of cattle-breeders to cope with the harsh winter conditions, by building up emergency fodder supplies and constructing cattle shelters.