Proceedings of the Trans-disciplinary Research Conference: Building Resilience of
Mongolian Rangelands, Ulaanbaatar Mongolia, June 9-10, 2015
Early Warning System for Pastoral Herders to Reduce
Disaster Risk by Using a Mobile SMS Service
Suvdantsetseg Balt1, 2, Akihiro Oba3, Yan Wanglin3 and Altanbagana
1Department of environmental policy, National development institute of Mongolia,
2School of Science and Art, National university of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
3Graduate school of Media and Governance, Keio University, Tokyo, Japan
Herders in Mongolia are directly affected by climate change impact more than urban
residents. This research project is developing an early warning system to prevent disaster
risk by using mobile SMS services based on the partnership between a scientific research
group, local policy makers, industrial technology developers and support of pastoral
communities. The mobile message based forecasting system has included common
weather information, forage information and other local requested information and been
delivered in current time since August 2013 in a case study in Biger soum of Gobi-Altai
province, Mongolia. After the system had been implemented 98% of participants agreed
they had improved knowledge about adaptation to dzuds, understood the importance of
information access, found it was manageable for their daily job and believed it would help
reduce impacts of climate disasters.
Keywords: Information delivery, SMS, dzud risk management, adaptation
Global climate change is a great challenge to Mongolians and requires adaptive solutions
for nomadic herding systems to cope with natural disasters of drought and winter extreme
dzud. The traditional nomadic herding system (hot ail, otor) has changed a lot due to
privatization of livestock, affecting the mind of herders, education of young herders, support
of community groups, information sharing mobility for herders, pasture management policy
from government and the livestock market system in local areas, all of which play important
roles in the herding system management.
Herders in Mongolia are directly affected by climate change more than urban residents.
The herders’ livelihood is dependent on seasonal climate difference, weather conditions
and landscape resources of vegetation, water, natural zones, and soil productivity. In the
winters of 1999‐2002 and 2009‐2010 Mongolia experienced the most severe serious dzuds
(very heavy winter with heavy snow cover, cold temperature and no forage). A resilience
building project to enable better adaptation to climate change by herders has been initiated
in a case study area to enable various practices to be tested (Suvdantsetseg, Oba, & Oyun-
Biger soum located in the Gobi Altai province of Mongolia, experienced large losses of
livestock during the dzud events in 1999-2002 and 2009-2012. In 2002, the area
experienced heavy snows from early to middle February with snow depths from 0.8-1.3
meter, and severe cold temperature that were below -350C. During this event, most of the
big animals (horse and yaks) froze to death in the mountain pasture and small livestock
either froze or died of starvation due to snow cover preventing any grazing. There was
limited weather forecasting. During this dzud local government had no systems in place to
help the herders. Biger soum has no fodder fund, nor storage of hay, fodder and forage to
deliver to herders as the first phase in a national response. Herders relying on traditional
knowledge did not think the winter would be so hard and they did not get any early warnings
of the dzud. Consequently the herders did not sell any extra animals, in part because of
poor access to markets, nor prepare in other ways for a dzud.
Herders have not been provided with information on how to adapt to severe conditions by
managing pasture carrying capacity, nor optimizing livestock numbers and quality. This
dzud identified the need for information access as a critical part of climate change
adaptation to these tough seasons. A national herding information access system can be
built on the new technologies now available (more people have mobile phones). In addition
training programs can be linked to this system to provide information to herders on adapting
to adverse seasons.
Several organizations are now producing information related to forages and pasture
carrying capacity (Livestock Early Warning System [LEWS] project 2013), and training
herders (Leveraging Tradition and Science in Disaster Risk Reduction in Mongolia [LTS]
project 2013 by Mercy Corps and Radio and TV weather forecasting National Agency
Meteorology and the Environmental Monitoring (NAMEM). However the information now
delivered does not get to the herders in words they clearly understand.
The main objective of this research was to develop an early warning system for adverse
climatic events by using mobile SMS services to provide herders with information to
improve awareness of weather conditions and to help herders minimize impacts of drought
and winter disasters.
This research project (started in 2012) used a mixture of quantitative and qualitative
methods to develop and test a national herd information access system that included:
preliminary survey by interviews with herders and local governors, demonstration
workshops, focus group discussions, questionnaires, photo observations, online feedback
system (SMS receiving system) and online teaching to design a national herd information
access system and then tested that system for information delivery in a case study soum.
The below steps were followed:
1. Preliminary survey conducted with herders and local governors to identify their system
requirements of dzud adaptation options and needs of scientific data for decision
support. This survey included 7 soums of Umnugobi province, 8 soums of Gobi-Altai
province and 3 soums of Tuv province in 2012. While we identified that an early
warning system development were required to develop in Mongolian pastoralists’
disaster management. The interviews in 2012 identified that 92% of respondents
wanted an early warning system, 99% could not access information on daily basis, and
78% wanted capacity building to train herders in traditional and new knowledge (Oba,
Suvdantsetseg, & Wanglin, 2014).
2. Then we started to develop the technical system design that resolved to structure the
delivery of information into three parts: Weather data - daily maximum and minimum
temperatures, precipitation, wind speed; Forage information – herbage mass kg dry
matter/ha; and local social information based on the herders’ interest. Other aspects
of system design identified the need for a database, device applications and interface
design and then presentation to end users considered the targeted customers, and
timing and frequency of information.
3. An investigation of information availability was conducted and the most credible data
sources were found to be the Norway meteorological institute open source data for
weather forecasting information (http://www.yr.no/place/Mongolia) and the Texas A&M
University open source data for forage forecasting information
4. Partnership for the delivery of the system was formed between the operating company,
system developer and local government. A contract was established between
MobiCom corporate, the National University of Mongolia and Keio University to delivery
mobile SMS messages at a cost of 15 tugrug per message to all MobiCom users in
Mongolia. We extended partnerships in 2014 to G-Mobile corporate and the National
Development Institute of Mongolia.
5. The system test was implemented in Biger soum after users had received training in
August 2013. In a survey after the system implementation were conducted the online
feedback system that is how system useful to improve awareness of dzuds, how to
use the data delivered, and how useful for decision makers and business mans. We
received the customer’s comments by SMS reply system which could see in online
MobiCom account to evaluate the case study of the system.
6. In order to expand the early warning system in the other cities not only in Gobi-Altai
but also other Mongolia cities we organized demonstration workshops and onlite
training. Demonstration workshops were held in the 7 soums of Gobi-Altai province in
August 2014 where users suggested to use different mobile operators based on their
local capability: G-Mobile in Khukh Morit, Darvi and Jargalan soums; MobiCom in
Sharga, Ysunbulag and Biger soums; and Skytel in Chandmani and Erdene. Online
training on “The importance and usage of information system to prevent disaster risk
via SMS service” was organized in cooperation with Mercy Corps International at 5
regional centers of Mongolia 4-5 September 2014.
Case study soum
Biger city is located in the Gobi-Altai province of south western Mongolia, an area remote
from large economic and population centres. There are 5 villages (Bag in Mongolian)
governed by this city. Biger region covers an area of 3730 square kilometres, with 2249
inhabitants (male 1143, female 1106), 635 stakeholders and 130000 numbers of livestock.
The local climate is continental harsh, semi-arid, and salty (Namkhaijantsan.G). Summer
annual average air temperature is about 25oC, sand soil surface temperature is 45-60oC,
annual precipitation is 73mm, and sunshine is 3103 hours/year.
Biger town is an important communication network centre at the meeting point for access
roads from other southern towns to the centre of Gobi-Altai city. Mobile phone operators
have infrastructure in the town and service 1150 MobiCom and 350 UNITEL users. 24%
percent of the population live and work in the town centre, the rest are involved in the
pastoral herding industry in neighboring and remote areas. Livestock provide the main local
employment and livelihoods for the local economy. This soum was very adversely affected
by the serious dzud in 1999-2002. They lost 34224 (24%) livestock (camel 1276, Horse
2076, Cattle 2678, Goat 13952 and sheep 14246) with medium to long-term effects on the
livelihoods of herders and the local economy.
The system development was successfully developed by the Keio University based on
integrated database from existing creditable database and management of collaboration
between scientific, communication and governmental organizations.
The system test was implemented in Biger soum after all users had received training. In a
survey after the demonstration workshop, 98% of participants agreed they had improved
knowledge about adaptation to dzuds, understood the importance of information access,
found it was manageable for their daily job and believed it would help reduce impacts of
After the system had been implemented 154 feedback response from users of Biger soum
were received: 98% of respondents were satisfied with the information received and where
using it daily, 43% understanding that early preparedness is important for disaster
prevention and managing pasture capacity, 11 % want to get forage information for other
soums and 17 % wanted improved content of the SMS on agriculture businesses,
infectious diseases, raw product market price and other social information.
168 people participated in the online training (Altai region 36, eastern region 33, Gobi
region 31, Khangai region 30 and western region 38) from diverse organizations of
Agriculture partnerships (APs), Local Emergency Management Agency (LEMA), local
Agency Meteorology and Environmental Monitoring (LAMEM), Zoonosis disease research
institute, soum, bagh and provincial officials, herders, local farmers, and agro farmers.
Surveys done found that 99% of participants understood the impact of climate change on
their livelihoods and how adaptation can limit its impact; 92% percent of participants
wanted capacity building training workshop including more young and experienced
herders, partnership organization and governors to solve the sustainable use of system in
Even though data accuracy and some operational matters remain problems, the
information delivery system itself is providing efficient access to relevant information for
herders as acknowledged by their responses.
The operating Company MobiCom has to improve the life time (from 2 minutes to 2 days)
of their telemarketing SMS service to improve delivery to users.
The Mongolian weather forecasting agency National Agency Meteorology and
Environmental monitoring agency (NAMEM) should cooperate with scientific development
agencies on their forecasting technology to align with herder needs.
The local government, development fund should consider including a disaster prevention
budget to support the sustainable use of system at the local level to reduce the countries
social and ecological vulnerability.
Local adaptation plans should consider the use of forage forecasting information for
pasture protection, irrigation needs, improvement of soil productivity, breeding of livestock
and hay preparation zone planning.
The national government should expand herder training in traditional and new technology
development of adaptation and pasture management, livestock husbandry system,
improvement of livestock productivity, marketing system and agribusiness development.
The system reported here requires herders to have a higher level of knowledge to interpret
the data provided.
The operating organization of this system needs to continue to organize public awareness
activities broadly through media, creditability of information, and coordination of customers.
This is acknowledge that this study supported by JSPS KAKENHI (2012-2015) Grant
Number 24310034, Japan" for the implementation of the project. We also thank to Biger
soum herders for their active participation and local supports during the field work.
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