Mongolia’s deadly sandstorms via below the fold newsletter

Mongolia’s deadly sandstorms
Sat May 30

Mongolians are getting buried alive in the worst sandstorm season in a decade, affecting both Chinese and Mongolian regions bordering the Gobi Desert. The series of eight storms persisted over the past three months, leading to the deaths of nine herders and 1.6 million livestock so far, hundreds of cancelled flights, and pollution 20 times over the healthy limit, exacerbating respiratory issues.

Though it’s not from a lack of foresight. Starting in 1978, China has planted 66 billion trees along its border with the Gobi in anticipation of future sandstorms. But this year’s sandstorms were so severe that sand hurled well above the line of trees intended as a protective wall. These sandstorms are so massive because of:Climate change, of course, as Mongolia not only experienced an unusually dry year, but temperatures have increased by about four degrees Fahrenheit in the last 70 years.Overgrazing, as the number of livestock animals tripled over the last three decades. For example, the region’s goat population has grown from five to 27 million and produces 40% of the world’s cashmere, causing concern over the death tolls from these storms.Environmental degradation from all sides. The aforementioned goats eat twice as much grass as sheep thereby destroying pastureland at an unsustainable rate. Meanwhile widespread mining of gold, coal, and copper has stripped vegetation and dried up water sources, accelerating desertification.Experts worry that unless the situation can be brought under control, Mongolia could be entirely desert within the next 40 years. While efforts to prevent desertification have been ongoing for decades — such as subsidies to help herding families reduce livestock — the quality of life for many Mongolians leave little room for more sacrifice.