Role of Livestock and other animals in Disaster Management

Prof (Dr.) RamaKumar, V disaster-animals

Impact of disaster are high on the weaker sections of the community. In many developing countries there are a good number of people who can not earn “a dollar a day” (D.A.D). When developing countries are disaster prone, the poor suffer the impact acutely. Many of the poor are landless or small holders. This section largely depends on animals, for livelihood. It is apparent that even though animals are the main source of livelihood to the poorest of the poor, disaster management of animals do not figure anywhere in preparedness, mitigation or rehabilitation. In fact animals can play a major role in all the components of disaster management of these countries. There is a significant participation of women in conventional animal husbandry system where a large array of indigenous breeds of domestic and semi-domestic animals live in absolute harmony with man and nature; a situation that can prevent at least some disasters.
Animals can play a significant role during a disaster. They are specifically used for search and rescue operations. Animals are the means of transport of injured and invalid people when no other transport is possible. Animals are also used for clearance of debris in inaccessible areas. Animals are movable assets of the farmer, which can be salvaged and used during response period or while victims live in shelters. Even in their death animals serve the community by providing material gains, with their hide, bone, lard and carcass. Damaged crops and grains unfit for human consumption can be used as animal feed and fodder. Animal rearing is a major diversion from shock for disaster victims and helps them tide over their depression. In flood duck rearing and fish farming help in clearing pests that can cause epidemics. Pigs and free living animals clear garbage & waste materials. Dogs (pets and community animals) keep wild animals and reptiles that stray into camps at bay. In war, a man made disaster, animals play a key role in transport, reconnaissance, tracking, guarding, combat etc.

A Disaster management plan for animals shall essentially include retrospective epidemiological study of the disasters including, herd health promotion, disease prevention, therapy and rehabilitation. In abnormal situations like the super cyclone in Orissa (in India), experience of other states like Andhra Pradesh or Gujarat could be useful. Steps like resource planning (for veterinary medical facilities, establishing shelter, grazing and watering facilities) are also needed. Other requirements include training, canvassing for political and administrative support, involving volunteer groups, arranging communication, alternate channels for power and communication, publicity and public relation and rehabilitation of animal owners. Planning (short term and long term) may have to be followed up by monitoring, impact assessment and evaluation.
Control Rooms, Temporary Veterinary hospital, equipment and other infrastructure are provided along with stockpile of equipment and drugs. For planning it is also important to understand animal behavior, in each disaster situation. Importance of Animal resource information in preparedness and mitigation (i.e. including recovery, relief and rehabilitation) is also discussed.


Experience has shown, that vulnerability and impact of disaster is high, on the economically and socially marginalised sections of the community. Land being limited the number of marginal farmers and Landless people are increasing every year. This section by and large depend on animals for their livelihood.. Hence steps towards disaster management of animals has a dual effect of disaster prevention and mitigation. Whether it is the “Masai” of Africa or “Gujjar, Bakharwal or Raikas” of India there are a large number of nomads in the world who by and large depend on animals for their livelihood. Animals have become an important cultural element, essential in maintaining man’s traditional life style. For example the Yak has made it possible for humans to live in harsh areas where production of crops is virtually impossible. Animal genetic biodiversity has helped humans to survive in a wide range of environment. Genetic diversity enable animals to adapt themselves to disease, adverse climate, limited feed & other resources thus limiting stress on environment.

Many Developing countries are largely disaster prone. 22 out of 32 states and Union Territories of India are vulnerable to some disaster or other. The cyclone in the state of Andhra Pradesh, of November 14 to 20, 1977, caused an estimated loss of 2,30,146 cattle and 3,44,056 other livestock, as against 8,515 human deaths. Similarly in Orrisa cyclone (in India) during the 4th of June, 1982 there had been 11,468 cattle lost against 243 human deaths. (loss of other animal are not being projected). Earthquake has comparatively less impact on animals; but in Uttarkashi earthquake (of India), 3100 cattle heads were lost as against 770 human lives. Between 1953-1990 we lost 1,02,905 cattle against 1532 human lives because of earthquakes. It is apparent that even though animals are the main source of livelihood to the poorest of the poor and to the landless, concrete steps towards disaster management of livestock and other animals are yet to be taken.

Considering the fact that in developing countries a sizable number of people are living below poverty line and further that employment opportunities in these countries is limited (In India it is less than 3-4% of its population), empowerment of the rural mass, in an equitable manner is a social urgency for mitigating the impact of disaster. Uneven labour requirement in rural areas leads to migration and slum dwelling that are associated with man made disasters like fire, urban violence, social frustration, boot-legging, drug traffic, crimes etc.
In India as high as 70% of livestock is owned by 67% of small and marginal farmers and by the landless people. Living on edge, the small holders generate milk, meat, wool etc. for the community with virtually no capital resource or training; but they contribute significantly to the GDP of the developing countries. In India these people contribute 62% of the total milk procured. 60% of livestock farming labour is provided by women and more than 90% of work related to care of animals is rendered by womenfolk of the family.

Though poultry rearing has assumed the role of an industry in some pockets, 70% of the poultry of India are still reared in the backyards, where these birds produce eggs and meat by scavenging around their habitation. Behind this modest process there is a time tested conventional animal rearing system and a large array of indigenous breeds of domestic and semi-domestic animals living in absolute harmony with man and nature.
Small holder who rear animals, have optimised the resources available around her/ his environment through the conventional system and through this process been mainly responsible for conserving the biodiversity. It is her/ his humble ways and modest needs that has sponsored a system that to an extend can prevent or mitigate disaster.

ANIMALS’ ROLE IN DISASTER (mitigation, search, rescue, relief or rehabilitation)
It is assumed that animal can forewarn, an incumbent disaster. (limited to some hazards; not fully proved) Animals like the dogs are used for search and rescue operations. During flash floods people escape holding on to animals; all animals are natural swimmers.
Animals and animal driven carts are the available means of transport of injured and invalid people when no other transport is possible. Animals are also used for clearance of debris.
During disaster the people loose their property and livelihood. Loss of crops, infrastructure or machinery take time to recoup. Animals if salvaged can provide the community with food, energy, transport and the other utilities immediately (as long as they are healthy and cared for). Unlike standing crops or infrastructure, the animals can be salvaged and brought to safer places, where a disaster can be predicted. In transit camps or in rehabilitated dwellings too the animals can be utilised for milk, manure, transport, fuel (dung cakes). Animals are used for fetching water or for lifting water from the water sources, where machine or man power are not available or can not be used. Even in their death animals serve the community; they provide some material gain through, their hide, bonelard and carcass. Partially damaged crops & grains unfit for human consumption can be gainfully used as animal feed.
Since there is major participation of women & children in the care of animals, this activity can be a major diversion to tide over the gloom and depression that fall over the victims during a disaster.

Flooded areas where drainage is slow, can be used for duck rearing and fish farming. These help in clearing pests that usually breed during floods.
Free living animals like the pigs play an important role in clearing garbage, waste materials etc.; they provide livelihood to economically weaker section and can be a cheap source of protein to these communities specially when other sources of food become scarce.
Dogs (pets and community animals) keep the creeping reptiles and straying wild animals at bay or at least forewarn the community of their intrusion.
People marooned during floods or earth quakes during winter have survived chilly nights taking refuge among herds of sheep and goats.

War is man made disaster during war animals play a key role. Horses and mules are used for transport in difficult terrain around the border. Dogs are used in the army for reconnaissance, tracking, guarding and combat.

Animal rearing is the only dependable vocation for the border villagers who are under constant threat of disturbances and dislodgment. Animal rearing can generate protein food for army and a source of income for the poor border dweller, thus building a positive rapport and mutual dependence between the two. Constant poverty often force these people into anti-national activities.

Free living animals: Stray dogs consume discarded food, crows clear spoilt materials that is thrown around vultures devour the dead animals, snakes control rodents; cats do the same.

 Disaster management plan for animals

Considering the economic, political, social and enviornmental importance of animals and life system of the small holder who depend on them in the developing countries, one may have to consider animal disaster management (in that light). A disaster management plan for animals shall essentially include :-
(1) Retrospective epidemiological study of the disasters in the area and this shall include,-
(a) Data Collected interpreted & analysed (i.e. information), on the basis of which some prediction can be made.
(b) Disaster Vignetting: is a means by which mapping is done on the basis of incidence frequency magnitude, epicentre, vulnerable areas.
(c) Herd profile: the total animal population (herd number), vulnerable animal population as per their species, breed, age, sex etc.
(c) Community Profile, the total population, animal owning population their age, sex, socio-economic status, education, cultural distribution etc.
(d) Animals at risk; the nature of hazard, the intensity of impact and mortality rate (immediate or delayed).
(e) Risk factor analyses: is the analysis of type of risk (identification & analyses)
(2) Action Plan : Since following disaster, animals are to be rescued and collected in relief camps, the immediate priority would be controlling and combating disease. The animal health component of disaster mitigation will include
(a) Promotional herd health care such as nutrition, pregnant animal care, care of new-born and young animal etc.
(b)Prevention of risk is through vaccination, pest/ vector, control, sanitation etc.
(c)Specific therapy by way of early diagnosis and treatment.
(d)Rehabilitation: help animals to recover from any trauma or fear.
(e)Disposal of dead animals: Carcass utilisation is one method. Many animals in which treatment is unlikely to be beneficial may have to be put to sleep ie. Euthanasia (“mercy killing”)
(3) Resources Planning :
(a) Assessment of available man power ie. Veterinary doctors, Paraveterinary staff, ancillary staff .
(b) Store and equipment include the medicine, surgical and medical appliances, diagnostics, life saving equipment etc.
Logistical needs : that is the need for fuels, lighting equipment, tents, sheds, Grass bedding, trolleys, material for sanitation, storage of feed and fodder and water.
(d) Ambulance and out reach facility:- transporting animals is more cumbersome when they are sick, injured and non-ambulatory.
(e) Veterinary medical facilities as veterinary hospital, mobile veterinary units etc.
Grazing and watering facility.
(4). Training Plan
(a) Training veterinary personnel, paravets, attendants etc.
(b) Training administrators like B.D.O., telephones & Fire Service personel, Civil defence personel, Sarpanch/ Village headmen, administrators
(c) Animal Health awareness for trainees such as social workers, volunteers .
(5). Allied Planning (Organisation)
(a) Augmenting political and administrative support
(b) Involving N.G.O.’s, C.B.O’s, media, Goshalas, animal welfare organisations and other volunteer groups.
(c) Eliciting commitment and allocation of funds
(d) Formation of veterinary service groups at State and Central Government level.
(e) Organisation of district/ area level bodies, assigning specific tasks and responsibilities.
(f) Establishing communication channels, alternate channels like ham radios.
(g) Establishing alternate source of power, energy etc.
(h) Plan for monitoring and supervision.
(i) Publicity and public relation activities (Vet-PR)
(j) Plan for mitigation and rehabilitation of animal owners along with animals
6. Execution of short & long term plan
Plan implimentation include estimation of animals involved, damage assessment. One may make use of media to help locating remote areas where often organisers’ attention may not easily reach. Monitoring is part of implementation.
7. Impact assessment of the past disasters, preparedness and mitigation measures ( Disaster need not repeat everytime)
Experience gained from similar hazards of nearby areas are positively helpful. This is specially useful in animal disaster management which is still in its infancy.
8. Post execution evaluation of plan
Follow-up of disaster management specially that of animal management are valuable experience, that need be shared among disaster prone areas. Unfortunately this is not forthcoming.
Linking with allied agencies for uniformity in all regions is part of disaster management programme as unbiased and uniform measures help transparency and hence would instill confidence of the community in the system.

Anticipation of sequence of events:
The sudden increase in deaths and casuality would increase the demand for veterinary personnel. Early relief period would therefore be critical. Here it is important to understand animal behavior, in each disaster situation. Importance of Animal resource information is equally important in rescue, relief and damage assessment. As has been discussed herd profile depicting the total animal population (herd number), vulnerable animal population as per their species, breed, age, sex etc. would immensely help mitigation including search, rescue, relief and rehabilitation.
But as time passes, the threat of diseases also would increase. Affected animals being under stress, inadequately managed and being herded in relief camps would be increasingly vulnerable as each day, passes. Temporary camps or sheds made would also need facilities that were previously non-existant.

Physical components of a Veterinary disaster management facility.

Temporary Vety. hospitals.
The equipment and other infrastructure are provided along with stock pile of emergency, equipment and drugs. All veterinary personnel may not be used at a time. It would be important to plan shifts to avoid mental and physical fatigue. Early phases would need more work force and in all departments of activity viz. Specialists like surgeons, anaethesiologists (pain mangers), diagnosticians as well as task force like pareveterinary personnel and physical workers. Supervision and monitoring would be important and demands all qualities of leadership (like confidence, competence, experience, patience, communication skill etc.). As search and rescue would be over, relief and rehabilitation would acquire importance.

Recovery and Rehabilitation
The impact of disaster being calamitous one may come across a number of cases which are beyond mere physical injuries or contagious disease. The mental trauma due to the loss of a sibling or a partner where bullocks are used in pair, can be encountered and will have to be handled at appropriate stage. Many of the cases of extensive trauma that cannot be handled may have to be put to sleep (mercy killing). Doing so under full public view where the public is already surcharged with losses of life and property may set in depression or even public outcry. Overenthusiastic and ill trained animal activists often can blow things out of proportion, specially because in many parts of India religious sentiments are attached with some animals. There is a role for Veterinary extension specialists to placate such situations.

Control Rooms
For the information exchange and co-ordination of veterinary support, control rooms are used. These handle co-ordination information among directorate of Animal Husbandry, district Vet. hospitals, rural hospitals of the affected area etc. Control rooms keep link with and co-ordinate supplies from agencies. The control room would be working on feed back from affected area on the extent and nature of emergency, the need for special equipment, emergency equipment (pain killer, sedatives, antibiotics, fracture equipments etc.) The role of a veterinary public relation man (Vet PR) assume significance.

Control of diseases
Immediate task after the first emergency, treatments are completed would be taking care of diseases that may spread. Since animal fares are part of village life in many areas of India “health care precautions” and “disease control” programmes are already available in many state departments of Animal Husbandry. Melas like the “Pushkar mela” of Rajasthan and the state and regional cattle shows are already held regularly in many states. Armed with retrospective epidemiology, authorities would identify emergency diseases and sanitation measures. This would include digging manure pits, drainage facilities (more important in floods, cyclone etc.), drinking water and water troughs. This will have to be simultaneously established in hospitals, temporary shelter camps as well as in the affected areas from time to time and as per priority.
For health care operations there is a need for discipline; public co-operation is also essential. Animal welfare agencies working in the areas can help arranging stockpiles. Media can help by providing feedbacks from field.

Sorting out and Co-ordinating Help
One major natural sequel of disaster is “sympathy out of place” and dumping of relief material without knowing what is required. Some factors that may hamper health & Veterinary support are ,

(i) Lack of communication among officials.
(ii) Shortage of space for operating various activities like laboratory, Medical store etc.
(iii) Uncontrolled demand for additional materials (this would be more if it is felt that any material is in short supply)
(iv) Improper or inefficient materials like equipments that do not operate on battery.
(v) Lack of staff trained (Veterinary extension and Public relation) to handle anxiety.
(vi) Lack of after-care facilities.
(vii) Lapses in co-ordination, duplication.
(viii) Absence of overall training for disaster management.

Post-Disaster phase and Reconstruction
Apart from reconstruction of the damaged or lost veterinary and health facilities one may have learned from the experience of disaster handling, the pitfalls in the animal husbandry and veterinary services. These experience would help during rebuilding some of the damaged or lost facilities. Some equipments or medicaments would also get enlisted as per priority.

Role of Goshalas
With the sentiments of Indian community to animals, there are already many goshalas or Panjrapoles, established in the country. This tradition traces back to thousands of years. In 300 B.C. during the regime of King Ashoka, “Baniyan Hospitals” used to be established side by side with the medical facilities, where the Doctors were entitled to endowment of land to grow medicinal herbs. They traditionally housed all sorts of animals from scorpions and turtles to horses. Today Goshalas mainly house cattle, though occasionally one can find some equines or other animals. Government of India and state governments support some of the goshalas. Some Goshalas like the Nashik Panjrapole play a major role in conserving the animal resource and provide free milk to under-nourished children.

Disaster Preparedness
Poverty alleviation, local resource enrichment, optimal use of resource at hand, etc. should be part of disaster preparedness as ideal facilities may not always be available as expected. On the basis of the disaster experience one has to improve or modify the preparedness or establish one where it was not existant.
The objectives should be to

  • Minimise suffering, loss and damages,prevent any communicable disease,
  • Reduce losses due to delay with prompt communication, improving and optimising existing facilities, equipping support system and assisting rehabilitation.

The methods of animal waste disposal/ recycling vary with animals. Cow and buffalo dung is used as manure or can be caked and dried for use as fuel. Horse, goat and poultry waste is also used as manure. Where possible small manure gas (or gobar gas) units can be organised. Improper disposal can enhance pest or vector problems. Preparation of compost or digging the manure pit be considered. Manure pits should be layered with dry waste and lime regularly. During prolonged stagnation of flood water, duck rearing and fish farming can be considered as the means of pest control.

An important problem that has to be faced during disaster management of animals is the disposal of dead animals. This poses acute problems during floods and cyclone, as the number of animals dying would be enormous. Most states have fallen animal management programs and carcass utilisation program. Admittedly, one administrative group does not uniformly handle these.

RESPONSE TO DISASTER: The behavioral variation


Earthquake: Since in India animals are tied outside or in thatched sheds, chances of physical injuries are low. But when tied or caged their chances of escape are minimised.

Flood: Animals are natural swimmers; therefore can escape drowning if they are not tied or caged.

Cyclone: Though cyclone can be predicted with some accuracy, salvaging animals has never been a priority. Cyclone shelters are not designed to house animals.

Drought and famine: Meteorological or Agricultural drought, need not necessarily affect animals as they can survive without agriculture. Animal stand the stress of the famine better than humans. They can use most sources of the water which may be unclean by human standards. Dry fodder reserves, urea molasses licks, bricks made of fodder urea and molasses etc. can be part of the stock pile. Scarcity fodder can be grown as part of the preventive action.

COLD FAMINE: An incidence famine has occurred in the alpine pastures of J&K due to unusual snow that covered grass. The sheep easily withstood the snow but starved for want of pastures. Stores were subsequently established by storing the dry fodder in pits; the low ambient temperature prevents spoilage. Cold famines are known in the snow deserts or part of Ladak; but Yaks do survive these.

Landslides and snow avalanches: Tied or caged animals stand a higher risk during these disasters. Care of animals is often a low priority in disaster management. Though animals stand better chance of survival during disasters, much less efforts have been made in this direction.

Fire, Forest fire: Animals are more prone to fire as they are usually housed in thatched sheds. The practice of smoking the sheds to repel pests is a common practice. Proximity of the chaff or the paddy straw makes conditions vulnerable to fire accidents.
Forest fire affect wild animals and birds though many of them are more lucky than their domestic counterparts, being more athletic and free to escape from fire.

Industrial and technological : Animals are not frequent direct victims, though indirectly they can be trapped/ affected any time. During Bhopal gas tragedy many animals including livestock , were affected; but poultry is known to have escaped from the impact of the hazard

Epidemics: By and large ethnic animals can withstand the stress and disease, though endemic diseases and chronic conditions like worm infestations or ticks are not uncommon. Preventive health care therefore assumes special significance. Some states have a high percentage of crossbred animals, specially cattle whose health perspective will have to be considered independent of ethnic animals.

It is suggested that the nodal agency of the Country in charge of disaster management ( In India it is the Ministry of Agriculture) should specifically draw its attention to disaster management in animals. A separate cell has to be established for the purpose in the department dealing with veterinary service. Disaster prevention measures and preparedness are to be organised by this department with the cooperation of their counterparts.

Animal population profile and distribution profile should be clearly drawn and plans for salvaging and rescuing the animals in major disasters like cyclones and flood to be undertaken on the basis of this data.
It is suggested that agencies like Goshalas, dairy, NGO’s and CBO’s are organised in such a manner that their services can also be utilised at short notice for disaster management.Cyclone shelters are to be specifically devised for animals in cyclone prone areas of the country.
Drought relief programmes like arrangement of scarcity fodder, drinking water and subsidised food be arranged as the stockpiles along with drugs and vaccines required to combat with allied disasters.

Each state should organise a disaster management group in the department dealing with Animal Husbandry and Veterinary service with specially trained staff, epidemiological data & communication facilities. The required field staff should be kept in constant readiness throughout the vulnerable months of the year. During lean period, the team should undertake preparedness and relief exercise to test their efficacy and preparedness. This will help develop a well oiled working system. There has to be a separate control cell attached to the Central Control Room dealing with National Animal Disaster Management.
The epidemiological and statistical information collected before, during and after disaster should be compiled and discussed among the States of each zone on a scheduled timetable. Preventive actions taken or preparedness should be constantly monitored and lacunae thereof be frankly reported and corrected for future use.



Posted in Animal welfare, Disaster and Emerging issues