Why animal charity matters: Helping livestock victims of natural disasters helps people too

Despite possible appearances some animal charities have got their priorities right

Share
Related Topics

If I told you that in February 2011 in aftermath of flooding and landslides in Bolivia which affected 24,000 people, the charity that I lead went in to provide veterinary care to over 39,000 animals, you might question whether we had our priorities right.  We’re still helping animals out there and I’m flying in next month to talk to government and UN officials about what more can be done, with at least 20,000 animals now at risk with one of the most severe winters on record. 

If I told you the name of our charity – the World Society for the Protection of Animals – then you might at least understand our mission.  Around the world every year, millions of animals suffer and die as a result of the same catastrophes that hit people.

However, if I told you that those 20,000 animals are the lifeblood – the livelihoods and future security – of more than 500 families, you would hopefully see that helping animals helps people too.  People may rely on animals for transport, ploughing or food.  Without aid, most of those animals would have died and with them would have gone the hope for the future for local people. Bolivia relies heavily on extensive farming and livestock breeding to support its economy, with forty per cent of the population estimated to be engaged in the agricultural and livestock sector (a figure which rises as high as 80 per cent in rural areas).

But we’re too small a charity to do this all by ourselves, especially with a global remit and disasters to cover around the world.  After initially securing vital food and medicine, we worked with the Bolivian authorities and other national and international humanitarian agencies already in the country. Together, we formed a working group to address security and health issues, which contributed to disaster assessment and identified areas of work to be rolled out.  This long term planning is essential when crises can drag on for years.

And this year we were back out in Bolivia again in partnership with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and the local authorities with more intervention and now long-term solutions that prepare for a sustainable future, such as animal shelters.  By preparing communities in advance, we can mitigate the effects of future disasters.

I’ve seen the desperate need for these projects myself, for example in the mountains of Pakistan after the earthquake there.  The consequences of not taking action can be serious.  In Myanmar, when Cyclone Nargis hit in May 2008, over 50 per cent of the country’s livestock was killed.  There was a huge welfare problem for animals. The survivors suffered severe injuries, water contamination and lack of veterinary care created a highly disease-prone and contagious environment, with the threat of cross-infection to humans dangerously high.

I am proud to say that the WSPA has since been asked to design risk reduction projects to safeguard Myanmar’s animal welfare, food security and rural livelihoods from disasters.  A clear case of protecting animals also benefiting people.  In fact, we find this is the norm rather than the exception, which is why we concentrate on practical solutions that work for both animals and people.

A water buffalo walks past dead livestock (R) on a flooded field in Kungyangon, Myanmar after the country was badly hit by cyclone Nargis

These achievements are clear examples of where we as a charity have sought to influence rather than simply deliver. We can’t hope to reach every animal hit by flood, famine or earthquake.  Neither can governments, international organisations and other charities hope to protect some of the world’s most vulnerable people effectively, unless they also protect their animals.  We have to persuade them of this and work together, influencing their policies.

And I passionately believe that charities need to do more of this if they are to ensure that their donors’ money achieves maximum benefit.  In India this year for example, the authorities have now, as a result of our work with them, asked all states to integrate animal protection into their Disaster plans, a move that could reach millions of animals that would otherwise have been beyond the help of charities.  And we are achieving this sort of success around the world, and not just in disasters. 

That’s because charities can’t do it all themselves.  The truth is that charities will never have all the resources to meet every challenge, and the danger is that simply always responding to crises rather than helping prevent them creates a dependency on charities in many parts of the world.  As the old saying goes, prevention really is better than cure. 

So to meet these challenges requires new thinking.  It means charities aiming to provide models and establish best practice as well as immediate relief.

That’s why I will be sharing our experiences at the United Nations in the coming months, on my way to Bolivia to maintain momentum and progress there. And its why our charity is also now training Colombian fire-fighters in rescuing animals – the first time we have done this – because research has shown that people affected by fire or disaster often return to rescue animals, which unfortunately hampers wider rescue efforts and often leads to unnecessary deaths.

Once again: by influencing, rather than simply reacting, we can achieve better outcomes.

Mike Baker is chief executive of the World Society for the Protection of Animals

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Tony Abbott: A man most Australian women would like to pat on the back...iron in hand

Caroline Garnar
Australian rapper Iggy Azalea performs in California  

Hip hop is both racial and political, and for Iggy Azalea to suggest otherwise is insulting

Yomi Adegoke
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there