Prior to attending the UN Small Island Developing States conference in Samoa, I had not put much thought into what happens to animals in disasters. Like many of us in New Zealand, I keep cat food in my emergency survival kit, but had never considered the effects of disasters on animals other than the family pet. However, attending a presentation on building resilience by protecting communities and their animals from disasters by World Animal Protection saw me consider the role animals play in different societies and the affect disasters have on them. In vulnerable communities, disasters can cause widespread loss of animals, which then devastates the communities and their livelihoods.
Around the world, animals have cultural value, livelihood value, food security value, economic value and social value. From hunting dogs to bullocks used for drafting, and from camels providing milk to the family cat, animals play a critical role in people’s lives, and should be taken into account in disaster preparation. Failure to take animals into account in emergency plans can threaten the lives of humans as well, as it often causes people to refuse to evacuate and leave their animals, or to return to their homes before it is safe to do so. In other instances, the loss of animals in a disaster can destroy a vital food source, or devastate the livelihood of disaster survivors and thereby their ability to rebuild and recover.
Animals are a key part of the solution to some of our toughest global development challenges; food security and safety, disease, sustainable development, poverty, and climate change. Over one billion of the world’s poor depend on animals for jobs, food, income, transport, social status and cultural identification. Healthy animals mean healthy communities; the loss of animals during disasters can have a profound effect on the lives of people who survive them.
Successfully incorporating the needs of animals into a disaster response leaves people in a situation where they can rebuild and recover faster. For every $1 invested in protecting animals in Disaster Risk Reduction, $6.69 is saved over the next three years in secured livelihoods. World Animal Protection is working on initiatives to address the needs of animals in disasters, including introducing early warning systems and designating safe high grounds in Myanmar, and developing underground shelters that stockpile food and protect animals from Typhoons in the Philippines.
However, governments also need to take responsibility for creating legislation and policy that defines the roles and resources needed to address animals in disasters. Countries such as Fiji and Samoa are working towards the implementation of Livestock Emergency Guidelines and Standards (LEGS) however their efforts are limited by a lack of both veterinarians and veterinary medicine, and financial resources. The international community has recognized the importance of animals in disaster risk reduction and included it in UN framework; now it is time to put words into action.
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