Typhoon Haiyan, also known as Yolanda, struck the Philippines on November 8 2013. Within just six hours it had caused huge destruction across the central Philippines. The disaster affected around 14 million people
Image credit: World Animal Protection / Ezra Acayan
On November 11, the Philippines declared a national state of emergency. Homes, roads, trees and power lines were destroyed, leaving whole communities cut off. Because it struck between two planting seasons, the typhoon destroyed harvests and newly-planted crops.
During the first two weeks of Haiyan’s aftermath, livestock and poultry smallholders in some of the heaviest hit areas lost 20% to 30% of their animals. These included buffalo, goats, cattle and poultry. Animal casualties were high. This caused great distress for communities who mostly rely on poultry and cattle for their livelihoods, and for buffalo who help plough and harvest rice fields.
Immediate response and mobile clinics
After assessing damage and investigating community needs, we deployed a team to some of the worst-affected municipalities. These were in the north-west provinces of Antique and Aklanon, the island of Panay, as well as Cebu and Leyte.
Our mobile clinic gave animals urgently needed care. This included antibiotics, deworming, vitamins and vaccinations to reduce mortality and maintain their conditions. For five weeks after Haiyan, we provided direct assistance to more than 70,000 farm animals and pets.
When our emergency response was over, we ensured local vets had enough supplies and animal feed to continue treating animals for a further two months. Consequently, we not only decreased animal suffering and deaths, we increased communities’ ability to cope and secure their livelihoods by protecting surviving animals.
The Philippines experiences an average of 20 typhoons every year. It was clear a typhoon-resistant model was urgently needed. Its aim was to prevent future animal losses for communities whose farm animals were suffering in Haiyan’s aftermath through lack of shelter and protection.
With the University of Aklan we implemented a typhoon-resistant pig and cattle farm with two core elements to reduce risk. The first of these elements was an underground shelter to protect animals during the storm. The second is a typhoon-resistant shelter with a roof that can be easily dismantled and protected from high winds
The first element of this model farm is the underground protection shelter designed for housing animals during a cyclone. It protects them from high winds and potential injury or death, keeping them safe for their owners and livelihoods. The design was inspired by an ancestral Cuban model (vara-en-tierra). We built two underground shelters using local materials, one for pigs and one for cattle.
Shelter for animals in the aftermath of cyclones was a clear priority in the Philippines. Shortly after Typhoon Haiyan, many pigs who survived the typhoon’s initial destruction subsequently died from heat stress through lack of shelter when their pen roofs were destroyed.
The typhoon-resistant shelter is a World Animal Protection design and holds between 10 to 12 pigs. It has a deep bed flooring system made of layers of natural materials. These layers include micro-organisms that decompose pig waste, reducing the need for tens of thousands of litres of water to clean the floors. It is a non-polluting system that produces healthy compost at the end of the production cycle.
It allows pigs to be raised in high welfare farming conditions that respect their natural behaviours and needs. Animals raised humanely are healthier which is better for the animals, people and the environment. The process can use less feed, fuel and water than intensive farming, reducing costs. And because healthy animals produce more it is an economically viable option.
The shelter’s removable roof can be taken down by three people and secured in the ground in less than half an hour. This facility leaves behind only ground and vertical foundations that pose little resistance to high winds. This means small producers can protect the roof and wider infrastructure from strong winds.
Veterinary capacity within community preparedness plans
During Haiyan’s aftermath, local veterinarians from the seven most affected municipalities of Antique participated in training, which we led.
The training focused on disaster management, community risk mapping and analysis, weather data forecasts and analysis, and early warning systems. We also ensured veterinarians had the tools they needed to put their new skills into practice. This involved providing veterinary kits, mobile phones for communications and data transmission, and transportation in the form of scooters and mountain bikes.
Providing alternative forms of transportation increases the mobility of vets in the aftermath of disasters when roads are blocked, allowing them to reach areas that would otherwise be cut off.
As part of their training, the vets devised an early warning system for small farmers. They guided communities to create local risk maps and identify what they could do to protect their animals. The system involves the vets issuing specific typhoon preparedness warning messages for small producers via text message.
The producers are expected to act according to the preparedness plans previously developed with their communities and the vets. They are then expected to report back on how the warnings and actions decreased the negative impact of typhoons. After each event (or on an annual basis), the vets will update the plans accordingly.
Timing, the extension of the country through thousands of islands, and not knowing the local language were part of the main obstacles in carrying out this project. From this experience, we also learned that previous coordination with local community leaders is a must.
For similar typhoons, hurricanes of high winds and storms, this method could be replicated by:
- using blueprints of the typhoon-resistant shelters and underground protection to create similar systems.
- Integrating communities and community leaders to help build solutions for future disasters.
- Understanding the local context and how they communicate. In the Philippines, text messaging was key in delivering our message to the public.