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A Harsh Mongolian Winter Leaves Millions of Livestock Dead

An unusually brutal winter in Mongolia has left much of the country’s grazing land frozen and snow-covered, starving or freezing millions of animals and upending thousands of lives in a country where a third of the population depends on herding and agriculture to make a living.

This year has brought the most snow in 49 years to Mongolia, and the deaths of more than 5.9 million livestock, the worst toll since 2010, international aid groups said this week. While the harshest weather might have passed, about 60 million animals face starvation until new grass sprouts in May, imperiling the future of herding families.

“The worst is yet to come,” Tapan Mishra, the top United Nations official in Mongolia, wrote in a report this week. “The peak of livestock mortality is expected at the end of April.”

The die-off is caused by a weather event known in Mongolia as dzud, where a dry summer is followed by a severe winter that brings deep snow and bitter cold, locking pastures under ice. The deaths can be devastating for families and the country’s economy, 13 percent of which is driven by agriculture, mostly livestock.

This month, Evariste Kouassi-Komlan, UNICEF’s representative in Mongolia, spent nearly three days traveling from the capital, Ulaanbaatar, to a remote western village to deliver medicine. His S.U.V. often got stuck in the snow. Outside each home, called a ger, he found as much as two feet of snow, and piles of frozen animal carcasses.

“Some of the herders have lost all of their animals,” he said in an interview. “All of them.”

In eastern Mongolia, Shijirbayar Dorjderem, 48, said that he had lost 800 livestock this year out of the 1,000 he inherited from his parents. That was even after he had purchased thousands of