3. Housing; Influence of natural disaster Zud to livelihood

Zud is a specific natural hazard in Mongolia, normally occurring every 20 years but frequented to 5-6 years in recent decades. This disaster can be categorized in 3 types, ‘white zud’ occur in heavy snowfall; ‘iron zud’ is the formation of an impenetrable layer of ice above pastureland where animal graze; and ‘black zud’ is where grazing land is lost due to long severe winter and dry summer. These 3 types of Zud continuously occur throughout 1999 to 2003, making lives of nomads difficult (Elbewgdorj, 2006).

From early 1990s, adverse climate condition seriously impacted the living of Mongolian nomads as livestock and plants were killed unable to adapt. These disasters brought about unusual dry summers and extreme cold winters with temperature as low as -46C. The extent of casualty is serious, statistics showing that six million of cattle were lost in 1999-2001, almost a fifth of the total count, and the number of livestock dropped by 10 million within 3 years (Mongolia, 2003). Apart from the economic losses the country suffered, it is the most striking transition that Mongolia faced, reversing decades of improvements that the country had advanced after the communist and socialist past in 1940s.

In the countryside of Ulaanbaatar, socialist lifestyle is deeply influential to family models, such that Mongolian families were still living in the traditional way where male member earn a living by nomadic herding, whilst female stay at home to take care of children or work in small domestic business to make extra income. However, due to Zud, most of the pastoral household loss the entire herd or the count of animals fell below the critical level of regeneration. Casualty caused is difficult to recover within a short time, hence created push factor for herders, especially the younger generation to migrate (Bruun & Li, 2006). After the socialist era, job opportunity provided in Ulaanbaatar became increasingly tempting for new herders first practicing in the 1990s. As they know something about both the free market and herding but not completely skillful with livestock management, many chose to leave the rural area. From 1999 onwards, the number of herders dropped from 189,897 to 175,911 in 2002 (Mongolia, 2003).

After the most disastrous period of Zud, only approximately 600 nomadic households and a total of 23.9 million animals remained, almost close to the pre-socialist times (Mongolia, 2003). The occurrence of ZUD not only affected the livelihood of individual families but also created influential impact to the socio-economic composition. Since the migration is unpredictable, it is noted that the gender proportion became uneven, with 44% women and only 21% men in 1998, compared to 23.6% and 25.2% respectively in the remote rural areas.

Although ZUD is believed to be natural disaster, the poverty problem worsening must not be neglected, as the event revealed hidden shortcomings of the society such as poor living condition, unemployment, gender inequality and other environmental problems.




Bruun, O., & Li, N. (2006). Mongols From Country to City; Floating Boundaries, Pastoralism and City Life in the Mongol Lands. Copenhagen: NIAS Press.

Elbewgdorj, T. (2006). Zud Natural Disaster, Prevention and Recovery. Speech.

Mongolia, N. S. (2003). Mongolian Statistical Yearbook 2002. Ulaanbaatar.


2 Comments on “3. Housing; Influence of natural disaster Zud to livelihood

  1. I am curious to know how has the urban plan transformed as more and more people move away from the rural area. What are the strategies the government took to deal with the growth of urban population and whether their mode of living has changed as they move into the urban area?
    I think it would be really interesting to contrast the case of Ulaanbaatar with Amman as well! One prominent urban problem in Amman is that the population keeps expanding to the rural area, due to the constant influx of refugees. Owing to this, the rural area in Amman is shrinking and the city is losing land for agriculture. Ulaanbaatar seems the opposite of this case, as the population is becoming more centralized, due to people moving to the urban area. While having a more centralized population may save costs on providing services and facilities, are there any shortcomings other than overcrowding? I am really curious to see how the two cases may relate or contrast with each other.

  2. Was there a specific zud that changed popular choice from a nomadic lifestyle to one that is more sedentary? How do zuds impact the urbanism of Ulaanbaatar (and, by inference, cold regions)?

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