WSPA Asia’s disaster management team is currently in Bihar, North East India, treating animals that have been rendered temporarily homeless by recent floods in the area.
Nearly 250 animals in Tilaktajpur village have already received treatment and WSPA’s Disaster Assessment and Response Team (DART) will be moving on to Rampur village next, to deliver emergency veterinary relief to stranded animals.
Flood forces families from homes
When the River Baghmati breached its banks on 3 August, hundreds of families from villages around Tilaktajpur – accompanied by their animals – escaped a massive surge of flood water by taking refuge on raised roadways.
Caused by heavy monsoon rainfall and an unusually high quantity of melted ice water draining from the Himalayas, the end result of the surge was a hole smashed in a river embankment, 200 metres wide and 60 metres deep.
Several villages in Bihar’s Sitamarhi district were also affected by flood water – families were forced to abandon their homes and relocate to high ground in order to save both human and animal lives.
Alleviating animal suffering
With soaring temperatures and high humidity, local families’ all important cattle and buffalo are increasingly at risk of catching diseases like foot and mouth and black-quarter fever.
However, working animals cannot yet be vaccinated against disease – their stress levels are currently too high for treatment to be effective.
For that reason, the WSPA DART is focusing on administering emergency first aid for wounds, de-worming and treating the animals for diarrhoea and the flood induced parasites that are attacking their vital organs and causing intense suffering.
Preparing for the worst to protect futures
The recent flooding is a reminder of how critical our ongoing work in Bihar is. In July, WSPA’s Director of Disaster Management met with the Chief Minister of Bihar to review the state’s risk reduction programme.
As the region is increasingly prone to annual flooding – the DART also responded to great animal need in 2008 – WSPA is helping put in place preparedness measures aimed at protecting livestock and working animals from these catastrophes.
This is particularly important as more than 90% of Bihar State’s population (94 million people) are subsistence farmers and totally dependent on agriculture and animal husbandry; 45% of that population live below the poverty index (income of US$1 per day).
Cattle and buffalo provide the milk needed for families’ basic nutrition and for trade in the local market. They also provide the only means by which the fields are ploughed, making working animals an intrinsic part of the economy, of peoples’ livelihoods and of food security.
Reducing risks, reducing suffering
WSPA plans to deliver a comprehensive risk reduction programme in Bihar State; this will serve as a flood preparedness model that can be replicated elsewhere in India and South Asia.
The programme will involve working with the Bihar State Ministries of Disaster Management, Agriculture and Livestock Services to integrate animals into civil defence and livestock department emergency response management systems.
This will require comprehensive early warning systems, evacuation and animal management plans in temporary safe holding areas to be established.
The planned outcome: that animal owners in vulnerable communities will be able to protect pets, livestock and working animals from floods and avoid the death and suffering that currently happens every time an unexpected disaster strikes.