A cycle of harsh winters and dry summers can create a national catastrophe in livestock-dependent Mongolia. Australian volunteer Tim Allan is working with Mongolia Red Cross to ensure that relief supplies are procured, stored and ready for distribution when needed.
A severe summer drought parches the earth. Then winter arrives, lashing the country with snow that hardens in the brutal cold, making it impossible for animals to graze on what little fodder remains.
In Mongolia this combination of climactic events is known as a dzud. Millions of livestock were lost in the harsh winter conditions of 2010, crippling the livelihoods of nomadic herders who make up a third of the country's population.
Mongolia Red Cross Society was heavily involved in distributing relief supplies to people affected by the dzud, an experience that highlighted the need for improvement in the areas of logistics and warehousing.
Disaster Management Officer Tim Allan is working with Mongolia Red Cross to help prepare for future disasters by improving procurement, supply chains and storage management. Tim is in Mongolia as part of Australian Volunteers for International Development, an Australian Government-AusAID initiative.
With a background in relief logistics, Tim is no stranger to disaster response situations. He has been part of flood relief operations in Pakistan, as well as relief responses to the 2009 earthquake in Indonesia, the 2009 floods in the Philippines and the 2008 cyclone in Myanmar.
With much of his previous work focused on emergency relief, Tim jumped at the chance to focus on disaster preparedness for a change.
He has been training Mongolia Red Cross staff in warehouse logistics and management using International Federation of Red Cross standards.
"This training builds up their understanding of processes and gives them exposure to documentation that's used throughout the Red Cross globally," Tim says.
"The aim is to understand how to better manage what limited stock they have. Mongolia Red Cross staff can develop processes for the inbound receipt of goods, control it, be able to secure it, create stock lists and be able to report and document distribution to beneficiaries during a disaster."
Davaa Basaan, manager of Mongolia Red Cross' disaster management and response teams, says having an Australian volunteer has already brought many benefits to MRCS.
"Experience and new ideas are the most crucial things a volunteer shares," Davaa says. "Tim helps us in many ways. He has conducted logistics and warehouse training for staff in regional Disaster Preparedness Centres … and he has been involved in National Disaster Response Team development as well."
While dzud particularly impacts on nomadic herders in the countryside, earthquakes pose more of a threat to urban dwellers. Mongolia is also prone to floods, grass and forest fires, animal disease outbreaks and sandstorms.
In these situations, Davaa's team has the responsibility to conduct needs and damage assessments, and then distribute relief supplies. Tim and Davaa are now exploring options to build a new warehouse close to the capital city of Ulaanbaatar, which is home to over 50% of the country's population.
Mongolia Red Cross, with support from Australian Red Cross and AusAID, has also established seven disaster preparedness centres in the most disaster-prone areas across the country.
For Tim, travelling to these regional disaster centres to conduct training has offered some of the most rewarding experiences so far.
"I've worked in offices in the corporate world but in this sort of role I wanted to do something more results-oriented - where you could be seen to be achieving something at a close and engaging level with people.
"I think you visibly see that when you go out into the field and work with the branches. When you're setting up something or providing training you get a very clear insight into the benefits and how people will be able to use that skill in their own communities.
"For me, it's extremely rewarding - you see the amazing countryside and you meet very passionate people doing a lot of work in communities that have very little."