Protecting India’s animals – safeguarding people’s futures
There are an estimated 1.2 billion livestock and poultry in India; they are vital to the rural communities where they mostly live. Rural families keep an average of five to seven animals. These are usually a combination of cattle (cows, buffaloes), sheep, goats, pigs, chickens and ducks. Their owners depend on them for their income, livelihoods and companionship. 70% of rural households depend upon livestock farming for supplementary income. Buffaloes are also used as draught animals.
In most of rural India, both livestock and pet animals, like dogs and cats, are considered part of the family. In some communities, animals are important to people’s social identity and may have special religious status too.
India’s natural disasters – the impact
Natural disasters, mostly related to India’s climate, cause massive losses of life and property. Droughts, floods, cyclones, avalanches, landslides and snowstorms pose the greatest threats.
Every year nearly 1million cattle are lost to floods through heavy rains.
Around 55% of India’s buffaloes, 38% of its cattle, 41% of its goats and 47% of its pigs are vulnerable to floods, which regularly devastate farmlands.
At the other extreme, 44% of the country’s livestock are perpetually affected by droughts.
Cyclones also cause huge losses of animal life in India – most notably the 1999 Orissa Super Cyclone killed 3,205,689 animals (mainly cattle, small animals and poultry birds) in Odisha state. The lessons learned from this terrible disaster meant that the Odisha State government were prepared for 2013’s Cyclone Phailin. They conducted India’s biggest evacuation in 23 years – evacuating nearly 1.2 million people and 30,000 animals.
Planning to save animal lives
The Indian government is one of the first countries in the world to integrate animals into its national disaster management plans, and has worked closely with us to do so. Such plans are central to protecting animals on a large scale. They are also a requirement of the Sendai Framework.
The plans were issued by its National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and the Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries (DAHDF) in 2016.
- The NDMA plan gives framework and direction to all the government agencies covering all sectors during all phases of the disaster management cycle. World Animal Protection provided recommendations to NDMA on integrating animal related components into this plan.
- The DAHDF national disaster management plan specifically spells out how to protect animals before, during and after disasters. DAHDF is responsible for farm animals/ livestock, poultry and fisheries and worked closely with our technical experts to prepare the plan.
To support the plans, we trained the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), a dedicated search and rescue force for disaster response operations normally dedicated to rescuing people. More than 250 trainers were trained in all 12 battalions nationwide. Training was organised in six states – North (Himachal Pradesh), South (Tamil Nadu), East (Assam), West (Gujarat) and Central (Bihar and Madhya Pradesh).
Other highly significant disaster risk reduction efforts
Animal Disaster Management and Livestock Emergency Guidelines and Standards(LEGS) have been adopted by India’s National Institute of Disaster Management. This is expected to lead to more human resources being dedicated to protecting animals in disasters. LEGS draws on evidence-based good practice in protecting livestock affected by disasters from around the world. World Animal Protection trained 50 government veterinary officers in Bihar and Andhra Pradesh states in LEGS. We also trained 150 government veterinary officers from four states – Himachal Pradesh, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Haryana –in the management of animals in emergencies.
Since 2008, India’s national and state governments, academic institutions and NGOs have worked with us on simulation exercises and mock drills to better prepare to protect animals from disasters. The frequently affected areas of Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat are a particular focus.
Veterinary Emergency Response Units (VERU) have been established in six zones (North, South, East, West and Central India with the support of NDMA and World Animal Protection. They are based in veterinary institutions to train and build capacities of veterinary and disaster management workers to protect animals from disasters.
India’s first VERU was founded in Bihar Veterinary College in 2009 after the success of other VERUs World Animal Protection helped develop in Thailand, Mexico, and other Latin American countries. Around one million animals have benefitted from the VERUs since 2009.
A total of 850 veterinary students have been trained on veterinary emergency response operations in India to date.
Finding animals in India’s law and policy
“It shall be the duty of every citizen of India [...] (g) to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wild life, and to have compassion for living creatures…”
Constitution of India Section 51 A
Animals have a strong place in Indian law, but none specifically requiring their protection before, during and after disasters. They are protected in the country’s constitution – quoted above; in The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1960, consolidated in 1982, and in The Wildlife Protection Act of 1972.
Different Indian states have their own state Acts that are applicable within each state’s jurisdiction. They can be found here.
The national policy on disaster management has a dedicated section on animal care in chapter 7: Response. It mentions as follows: “Animals both domestic and wild are exposed to the effects of natural and man-made disasters. It is necessary to devise appropriate measures to protect animals and find means to shelter and feed them during disasters and their aftermath, through a community effort, to the extent possible. The full version is available here.
Looking forward – areas for development
As yet, there are no specific systems within India that measure and assess a disaster’s impact on animals and their losses. We are working with the government to address this. Such measures would help fulfil the requirement of the Sendai Framework to quantify the ‘number of people whose livelihoods were disrupted or destroyed attributed to disasters’ [B.5].
Animals are included in India’s national disaster management plans. However, not all state, district and village level plans include animal protection elements.
Although animals are included in the national disaster management plans, making them work for animals is challenging. This is because there are no dedicated resources – people, funds, equipment and infrastructure – to meet front-line animal protection requirements.