EFEUvs, Mongolia

Hundreds of thousands of animals have perished in recent weeks in Mongolia amid a slow-moving natural disaster that has brought freezing temperatures to the country, leaving its traditional nomadic populations particularly hard hit.

Zagirjaw, a herder from Uvs province, looked despairingly as he was forced to dispose of the carcasses of farm animals unable to survive the harsh conditions at the end of March, according to an epa journalist.

He and some of his surviving sheep took shelter in his ger, a round tent dwelling, which offered some respite from the bitter cold outside.

Zagrirjaw's situation is not unique. In recent weeks, hundreds of thousands of animals have been killed by a devastating natural phenomenon known as a "dzud", where a summer drought is followed by a harsh winter.

During dzuds, which usually occur in five-year cycles, temperatures fall as low as minus 40 degrees celsius.

Some herders unprepared for the extreme cold have lost as much as half of their livestock.

Uvs, which is situated over 1,000 kilometers from the country's capital Ulaanbaatar, is one of the provinces hardest hit by this year's dzud, with around 7,000 herder households there affected by the extreme conditions, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

As of last week, the province, which has some 2.7 million farm animals, had seen 54,000 killed, the IFRC said.

In 2009-2010, Mongolia lost 20 percent of its livestock to the dzud, according to World Bank estimates.

Mongolia's Foreign Ministry asked in February for international aid to help deal with this year's disaster, estimating that $4.4 million worth of food supplies, warm clothes, medicine and emergency vehicles were needed, as well as hay, animal feed and vaccinations for livestock, according to reports.

But, while a number of aid groups offer support, as animal carcasses continue to litter the rugged land, Mongolia's nomads look to an uncertain future.