GENEVA, May 12 (Reuters) - Mineral-rich Mongolia is in the grips of a natural disaster after its worst winter for 50 years wiped out huge livestock populations vital to the country's herders, the U.N. said on Wednesday.
Rana Flowers, the United Nation's top representative in the landlocked Asian country, said a hot dry summer in 2009 followed first by fierce cold and heavy snow, and then a late spring had left much of the population reeling.
"Predictions are that the effects of all this, and it is bound to be serious for the economy as a whole, will last well into next year," she told a news conference before presenting an appeal for some $16 million in funding for a relief effort.
She said that by mid-week, over 8 million of the 41 million cattle on which 30 percent of the nation's population of 3 million depend not only for income but also for heating, had died, and the death tolls were still climbing.
Of the country's 21 provinces, 15 had already been declared disaster zones by the government and 4 more were expected to join the list, she added.
Among the rural population, almost entirely herders, malnutrition was rising fast especially among children and people who had lost all their livestock were moving to the few towns and cities in search of work, probably fruitlessly.
Flowers, in Geneva to launch the appeal at a meeting of donor countries, said that during the long snows transport across Mongolia had frequently been interrupted, but that there seemed to have been no effect on mining.
Mongolia, which is potentially sitting on vast amounts of uranium, coking coal, copper and other minerals, has been working hard on driving growth by boosting foreign investment in the mining sector.
On Tuesday, Canadian exploration company Ivanhoe Mines (IVN.TO) said its Oyu Tolgoi project in the the country would be one of the world's top three copper-gold mines when it goes into full production after a start-up in 2013.
In Hong Kong last week, project financiers said they were looking at the lending opportunities offered by the $4 billion total investment, including a debt portion of $2.5-$3 billion, needed to finance the complex in the south Gobi.