80,000 Tibetan Nomads Face Food Crisis from Severe Cold and Snow

MSF Launches Emergency Operation, Seeks Funds to Cover Costs

New York/Geneva, March 9, 1998 — Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has launched an emergency operation to distribute food and medical aid to 80,000 Tibetan nomads in Yushu Prefecture in the province of Qinghai, China. Violent snowstorms and severely cold temperatures-as low as 40 degrees below zero celcius-have put this population in severe danger due to widespread starvation of their livestock and illness. Without assistance, they lack the resources to survive past May 1998.

More than 200,000 yaks, the principal resource for the survival of the Tibetan population, have died, according to local authorities, because icy ground has prevented the yaks from grazing. The Tibetan nomads rely on yaks not only for meat but for milk, clothing, and fuel. According to the authorities, an additional one million of these animals, or 40 percent of the herd, are at risk. The current crisis comes at a time when the population is still reeling from damage caused by similar weather during the winter of 1995-1996.

"People are running out of food," says Benjamin Ip, M.D., an MSF volunteer from Nevada, who recently returned from Yushu prefecture. "The poorest people are even giving their own food to the yaks in order to keep them alive; otherwise they won't have anything to eat in the spring or summer."

MSF will transport enough food to ensure the population's survival until spring-1,200 metric tons of barley, 80 tons of yak butter, and 600 metric tons of animal food-from Xining, the capital of Qinghai, to the affected villages. Two convoys of 20 trucks apiece are expected to make 300 to 400 separate trips through mountainous terrain to deliver the food, as well as a supply of medicine, throughout the prefecture.

The total cost to MSF of the emergency operation is $1,047,000. MSF is currently seeking funds to cover the cost of the project.

A 9-person MSF team will coordinate the intervention, which will take place over one month. The most critical medical ailments that have been reported include frostbite, snow blindness, and respiratory infections. In addition to treating these illnesses, the doctors will distribute medicines and train local health care workers to treat and prevent these diseases.

MSF is the world's largest independent emergency medical relief organization, providing aid to victims of armed conflict, natural and man-made disasters, and epidemic diseases, and to populations who lack of access to health care. Nearly 2,500 volunteers from 45 countries currently work with MSF, providing medical aid in more than 80 countries.