Taking care of animals in disasters
Lyzi G Cota introduces the first in a series of blogs that explore the importance of accounting for livestock and poultry during a crisis.
The term livestock refers to cattle, sheep, horses, goats, pigs, llamas and other domestic animals ordinarily raised or used on farms, and poultry includes any variety of domestic fowl raismeat or egg production. Image: sugarwarrior/123rf
The damage to agricultural assets and infrastructure, and losses in the production of livestock, crops, fisheries and poultry are all negatively affected by disasters. We recount financial losses and fear the biological implications, but we do not prepare properly to mitigate their impact in the short-term.
Now more than ever, conventional and social media platforms cover more stories about extreme natural hazards, which highlight the impact on farms, livestock, and communities and show that animals are increasingly suffering in localised disasters.
There is still much to do to raise awareness among what livestock producers, emergency managers, veterinarians, and authorities can do to prevent and reduce the consequences of disasters.
To realise the importance of emergency preparedness and response plans for farm animals, one must consider the full scope. The leading producers of beef in the world in million metric tons (mmt) as of the first quarter of 2021 are the USA (12.6 mmt), followed by Brazil (10.4 mmt). The figure drops slightly for the EU (7.7 mmt) and China (7.0), then India (4.0 mmt), Argentina (3.1 mmt), Mexico and Australia (both 2.1 mmt).
US agriculture alone is valued at approximately $230 billion. It accounts for more than 15 per cent of the gross domestic product. In the EU, the value of livestock production is almost €125 billion per year and accounts for 40 per cent of total agricultural production.
Several international organisations and departments provide relevant information about emergency disease preparedness and management, emerging infectious disease threats and their impact, as well as antimicrobial drugs, biodiversity loss, land degradation, the acceleration of climate change and how environmental conditions decline.
However, there is little or no guidance regarding livestock management before, during or after a disaster. There are not enough sources that support preparedness before the disaster and the subsequent recovery that affects this field and the people who depend on it for food businesses.
The International Livestock Research Institute launched a series of seven key messages areas and more than 20 practical actions on ‘One Health’ with the aim to improve sustainable livestock production; strengthening livelihoods, and improve the understanding of governments, investors, experts in the matter and policymakers about the complex links between environment, animal and human health.
The One Health Briefs are:
1) Joined-up investments reduce health risks and burdens to people, livestock, and ecosystems;
2) Preventing and controlling human diseases transmitted by animals saves millions of lives and livelihoods;
3) Managing antimicrobial use in livestock farming promotes human and animal health and supports livelihoods;
4) Keeping foods safe leads to healthier people, livestock and environment;
5) Keeping livestock healthy and well cared for improves animal, human, environmental and economic health;
6) Managing the interfaces between livestock and nature produces win-win-win outcomes for nature, people and animals; and
7) Women’s empowerment leads to healthier people, animals and environments since two-thirds of the world’s 600 million poor livestock farmers are women.
This recurrent problem strikes globally on different levels each year and, with the CRJ, I will be developing a series of comprehensive guidelines for taking care of farm animals in disasters. The project will allow us to share practices that farm owners, business owners, disaster responders and citizens can perform to mitigate the damages to livestock and poultry – which are not only a source of profit, but are sentient, living creatures that feel and suffer during and after catastrophes.
Every season, various disasters affect fauna around the world. Last year was no exception, with devastating wildfires in countries such as the US (California) and Australia where the bushfire crisis was one of the worst wildlife disasters in modern history, and sadly resulted in nearly three billion animals killed or displaced.
Through collective co-operation we can contribute to ease the burden for first responders, disaster, crisis and emergency managers who have to deal with disasters, assist injured people, searching and rescuing individuals through the hardest conditions while animals require assistance.
How can we be part of the solution?
We can assist our communities, protect ourselves and our interests through the development and improvement of community disaster plans that target the care of animals. Some steps that can be taken include: Finding out about local emergency management, disaster response and animal industry representatives; determining how these groups perceive hazards specific to our communities; reviewing the essential areas of need to provide care for animals and their owners in disasters with local emergency managers and animal-care groups; and determining the level of integration to support the community as a whole.
Working with local emergency managers before an extreme event strikes can help animal owners during a disaster, as can sharing global practices to mitigate the impact of natural hazards. I will be addressing these approaches as part of the series, as well as exploring intoxication and contamination, foreign animal diseases, biosecurity on the farm to prevent disease, transportation preparedness to avoid accidents and carcass disposal to avoid contamination.
The Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock would be complete if it included preparedness, planning and response in disasters that affect livestock and poultry. Multi-stakeholders must ally and commit to the sustainable development of this sector through planning, preparation, dialogue, consultation, joint analysis, call to action and proper and timely execution.
I encourage stakeholders to join in this project, sharing concerns, doubts and best practices; it is our responsibility to work and prepare to minimise events that impact the world we all share.
Subscribers to the CRJ can read more about animals in disasters in Claire Sanders’ interview with Eugenia Morales of the charity World Animal Protection in the article Putting animals on the global disaster agenda in CRJ 14.4.