| ||As large as Spain, France, Portugal, and Germany put together, Mongolia has only 2.9 million inhabitants. Ulan Bator, its capital, is in the middle of the steppes, where 38 percent of the population is concentrated. Tens of thousands of nomadic cattle farmers are settling here, spurred by the desertification of the land where their animals once grazed or by exceptionally harsh winters. Indeed, from 1999 to 2002, Mongolia suffered an uninterrupted zud, the combination of summer and fall droughts and extreme winter conditions, and 40 percent of its herds were lost. Yesterday’s nomads set up their yurts near Ulan Bator, dotting the city’s outskirts with a vast shantytown of white tents. Living conditions are appalling in these areas. Given the scale of this phenomenon, the government forbids the keeping of horses and goats, and torn from their steppes and regular ways, populations are subject to alcoholism. The consensus is that the nomadic life may not survive to the next generation.
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