This is what things looked like back in February...
You're forgiven if you missed it, Mongolia being well off most TreeHugger readers' radar, but this winter was the worst experienced on the steppes in the past 30 years, with higher than normal snowfall and temps dropping to -55°F at times. Ten percent of the nation's livestock (4.5 million animals) has died so far, with an estimated 120,000 people losing half their herds due to the dzud. Cool Green Science has a good overview of why this sort of event isn't entirely caused by natural conditions, and what can be done to help ameliorate them in the future.
Overgrazing, Too Many Livestock Didn't Help Things
First of all, though this particular dzud isn't linked directly with changing climate, in the long-term summer temperatures are projected to increase, in turn reducing water and grass availability. Come winter that means it's all the more likely dzud conditions could develop.
Second of all, Mongolia has seen more and more livestock and overgrazing. Though the nation's democratic revolution in 1990 may have ousted communism, it resulted in livestock numbers increasing to ecologically unsustainable levels and overgrazing becoming more common.
What's more, central planning may not always be the most efficient way of doing things, and at least in the Soviet example resulted in some severe environmental problems but at least in this instance, it provided better herd management than what currently exists.
So how to prevent this? Cool Green Science says three things need to be done:
Better Grassland, Herd Management Needed
1) Sustainable and climate-resilient grazing management, with grazing being on par with the productivity of a particular area so that it does not become overgrazed. 2) Creation of "grass banks": Areas strategically chose to be set aside for wildlife and left ungrazed. In drought years these can be opened up to herders. 3) Better short- and long-term management of grasslands
More on Natural Disasters:
20 Million Mongolian Cattle Could Be Dead By Spring Due to Dzud
Number of Natural Disasters Up Four-Fold Over Past Two Decades: Global Warming to Blame?
Drought Decimates Kenyan Herders' Net Worth