Protecting Costa Rica’s animals – safeguarding people’s futures
There are around 1.3 million livestock (cattle) kept in Costa Rica. Large scale cattle ranching has declined since the 1980s, but around 130,000 cattle are still farmed in this way and there are nearly 330,000 dairy cows kept in the country, too. Costa Rica is a major exporter of dairy products to Central America. Nationally, more than 45,000 livestock farms employ at least 12% of the Costa Rican work force and 5.5% of its GDP.
Small holdings are very common, with people raising cattle, pigs, goats, poultry and in some cases fish. Farmers may keep horses for transportation and haulage.
Most of the small holdings are farmed on a subsistence level, with local farmers having little left over for trade. Poverty is declining in Costa Rica, but around 29% of people in rural areas still live below the poverty line and depend on their animals for food and their livelihoods.
Costa Rica is considered a development success story because of its steady economic growth over the past 25 years.
Costa Rica’s natural disasters – the impact
Costa Rica has a complex eco-system and geology, including 16 volcanoes. Consequently, it’s vulnerable to natural disasters including earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and hurricanes, which can cause floods and landslides. According to a World Bank-funded natural disaster study, Costa Rica ranks number two in the world among countries most exposed to multiple hazards.
For example, during 2016 Costa Rica was struck particularly badly. Hurricane Otto caused more than $21 billion worth of damage, affecting nearly 41,000 animals and killing over 1,000; two volcanoes erupted – the Turrialba volcano caused widespread agricultural damage. There was also an earthquake, numerous tremors and floods caused by extreme rainfall. In 2017, Hurricane Nate devastated the entire country, affecting 79,524 animals and killing 26,290.
80% of the country’s GDP and 78% of Costa Ricans are located in high-risk areas.
Planning to save animal lives
Costa Rica has a series of regulations, policies, and procedures covering the care of animals in disasters and how animal owners and communities can prepare to protect them. Since 2006 it has worked closely with World Animal Protection to develop them.
The importance of animal protection to the government is shown by its placement of the national ‘Animal Care Program in Disasters’ within the national animal health service (SENASA). SENASA is part of Costa Rica’s ministry of agriculture and livestock.
The Costa Rican government, through the ministry of agriculture and livestock, created the first fund in Latin America covering the care of animals in emergencies.
Costa Rica’s civil protection agency – the National Commission Of Risk Prevention And Emergency Attention (CNE) – generated the National Policy for Comprehensive Risk Management (PNGIR). This policy includes the protection of animals, as ‘essential assets’ – a significant step in fulfilling the requirements of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.
Other highly significant disaster risk reduction efforts
Costa Rican law relating to Disaster Risk Management (DRM) requires that all new public investments follow DRM best practices and include a hazard assessment.
A national animal census is conducted approximately every five years and is overseen by the ministry of agriculture and livestock. The census records number of animals and locations.
For more than four years, disaster response has involved the care of companion as well as production animals. Pets are given space in temporary shelters for people, under the supervision of the ministries of public health, and agriculture and livestock.
We provide capacity building training for field officers on disaster risk reduction; animal handling during emergencies; and LEGS (Livestock Emergency Guidelines and Standards). LEGS draws on evidence based good practice in protecting livestock affected by disasters from around the world.
Costa Rica also developed the only documented pets in disasters awareness/ preparedness campaign through TV and social media called ‘Thunder’, shared and co-hosted by SENASA.
We supported Costa Rica to develop its first Veterinary Emergency Response Unit (VERU) with Costa Rica’s National University. Since its launch in 2008, it has been deployed to emergencies nationwide and since 2015 has also been used as a disaster risk reduction tool to help train vets in disaster risk reduction.
Animals in Costa Rica’s law and policy
Costa Rica has a strong legal framework for animal protection and cruelty prevention.
- National Risk Management Policy 2016–2030, launched in November 2015. The policy explicitly states the need for animal protection in Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR).
- 2006 National Emergencies & Risk Act #8488, Article 27: Obliges public institutions to allocate resources for risk management and disasters
- 2006 SENASA ACT #849, especially Title IV and Article 95: States how it should perform during a declared emergency. It also created accumulative emergency fund
- 2013 Executive Decree #37825-MAG: determined the mechanisms for the implementation and use of this fund, plus SENASA’s responsibilities during animal health emergencies
Looking forward – areas for development
Despite a strong legal framework for animal protection and cruelty prevention, full implementation and enforcement has scope for improvement.
Animal owners, despite their care and concern to keep their animals safe, need more information and awareness on preparedness measures they can take. As with most countries, there is a false sense of invulnerability to disasters until their direct effects are felt. Authorities conduct public awareness campaigns to encourage preparedness and risk reduction.
School curricula present an as-yet untapped opportunity to reinforce and encourage DRR for animal owners – indeed all citizens - over time. National education systems represent an unparalleled opportunity to foster a culture of preparedness and prevention, towards a more resilient citizenry.