Nyamdulam and her family had been herders in Zavkhan Province, in remote north-west Mongolia for Nyamdulam’s whole life. In Zavkhan Province, Nyamdulam’s family had over 300 head of livestock including sheep, yack, camels, cows and horses. Zavkhan province was heavily affected by the harsh dzuds* of 1999 and 2001. Like many families in the region, Nyamdulam and her family lost the bulk of their livestock in those two years. They struggled to recover, and continued to lose livestock in each subsequent year. In 2007, the last of their livestock died.
“After we lost our livestock, we moved to the soum (sub region) center, trying to collect salt to make a living. Most of the people in our soum were also affected by the dzud, and lots of other families were doing the same. We weren’t earning enough to cover our daily needs.
In 2010, we made the decision to move to Ulaanbaatar. We had no choice but to move, it was a very difficult decision. Once we arrived, it was difficult to settle down. We didn’t know people; we didn’t know how life in Ulaanbaatar worked, or how to find a job. We had been herders our whole lives. Everything was different.
We came here with the whole family, including my sisters and two brothers. We lived in a small dormitory, with a shared living space. I found work keeping the coal heaters in the dormitory going throughout the night, my mother was working as an apartment guard and cleaner. Living in the public dormitory for two years, we didn’t register our new residence with the local authorities, so the children couldn’t go to kindergarten.
My brothers did not like living here. They moved back to the countryside to find work herding other people’s animals for a salary. Now it’s only the women and children here. Things are much better for us now. We know many people, and understand how life works. I'm a senior officer at the Khorro (local government) and all of my children are in school.
In Zavkhan, there are lakes and very nice mountains. We miss our winter camp, and our autumn camp. It was very difficult to move. Now our dream is to have our own yard and own ger.”
*dzud is a cyclical slow onset event that is unique to Mongolia, characterized by a summer drought in which the growth of fodder is slow, followed by an unusually cold, snowy or icy winter.
To know more about Nyamdulam's story, read the blog about how natural disasters and climate change intensify urban migration in Mongolia.