Pressurised pastoralism in South Gobi, Mongolia: what is the role of drought?
The desert-steppe region of southern Mongolia is susceptible to drought and extreme winter weather (dzud) that in combination form Mongolia’s worst natural hazard. Low precipitation and high climatic variability in this dryland environment impact the landscape and affect pastoralism, the dominant rural lifestyle. Using the Standardised Precipitation Index (SPI), this paper identifies drought occurrence in South Gobi Province, Mongolia. It then examines the relationship of drought with climate factors, interaction with vegetation (derived from Normalised Difference Vegetation Index - NDVI - data), and local human and livestock populations, and the dzuds of 1999–2001. Results show that drought is recurrent in the region, reaching extreme intensity most recently in 2005–2006. In contrast with the prevailing concept of drought impacting dzuds, the study did not find a connection between drought and dzud in South Gobi Province. Though repeated events, these natural hazards occur independently in the region. Climatic variables show increasing temperatures (>1°C), fluctuating precipitation patterns and a decline in vegetation cover. The principal long-term correlation of drought is with human population rather than natural factors, dzud or livestock numbers.