From a different perspective
Throughout my career, I have been asked many times about my work in disaster management, what I did before, how I got to where I am today and how I make decisions during a particular event.
By Naritsorn Pholperm, Response Manager. Thailand
I have discovered that it is a bit difficult for me to explain myself clearly. Sometimes when we have been doing something for a long time and becomes part of our routine we totally forget how to explain it, that's why I'm going to tell you a little about my experience.
When I look back on my days as a student at the veterinary school, I remember that all I needed in my robe was the stethoscope, gauze, forceps and a penlight. Now, to be able to do my job well during a disaster, I cannot leave without a satellite phone, a water purifier, a gas mask for volcanic eruptions, personal floating devices and in some cases even good running shoes. It's such a different way of life for a veterinarian!
Although all disasters are different and each has its unique and different story to tell, they all have certain elements in common.
Even when a disaster can be predicted, we won´t know its true impact until it occurs
In many cases, disasters and weather can be predicted. But it is until the monster hits the ground that we can know the damage it caused. Before that we can only guess how bad it wil be. Unfortunately, even in a slow onset disaster, it can take only a second for a situation to reach its inflection point and its impact causes damage beyond the community´s ability to cope.
For example, during the 2016 drought in Thailand, that situation had already been affecting the north of the country for around two years. The community was very well prepared to face droughts since many had faced similar situations since they were children. But one day the situation got worse, people had to start digging wells to find an extra drop of water for their animals, and the situation was beyond was they considered “normal”. It was at that moment that they called us asking for help; We had to pack our bags and leave.
Leaving our loved ones is also part of the job
During the Sulawesi earthquake in 2018, our logistics and support officer had just returned from maternity leave and I notified her that we had to leave with only 48-hour notice. A mother, with her newborn son, had to pack and leave without knowing when she would be returning home. At that time, I could only think of John Denver's song that says: "... Cause I'm leaving on a jet plane. Do not know when I'll be back again. Oh babe, I hate to go” ..
We drove for about 2 days from the nearest available airport to the disaster area in downtown Sulawesi. All the way during this one-thousand km trip she had to be aware of her baby (even pumping her milk along the way).
At this point, many may ask: What is the point of doing this if there are so many other safer jobs?
Here is where the saying "Every coin has two faces" applies perfectly. Knowing the reason why we do this work is sufficient motivation. When we help an animal, we are also helping people.
I think about the producers who need the cattle to plough the land after a flood, the people who lost their families and homes and now their pets are the only companionship they have.
It is hard to explain how much these animals mean to these people. Therefore, saving these animals, which in many cases is the only thing left to them, is the only motivation we need to continue doing what we do.
If we do not help them, the lives of all these people could change forever. I remember a family in Mongolia after a short rainy season followed by a severe winter (called Dzud). They lived in a land where Mongolian pastors have resided since the time of the empire, and were particularly proud to be a family of shepherds. They had hundreds of goats that fed the whole family and thanks to them they could send their children to school. However, the prolonged winter where even temperatures of -50 Celsius were experienced, had caused a great shortage. There was no grass to feed the animals or hot places where the animals could be, the shepherds even decided to take their animals to their ger (traditional round shaped dwelling). This family ended up losing all their livestock and they had to move to the city and start looking for work to continue with their lives.
A smile is everything.
As in any intense situation, feeling very stressed is inevitable. But is this what we should focus on? The answer is a big No, because once we have left for a response operation we focus on "how to get it done". I know this might sound like a phrase for superheroes, but the reality is that when we get the job done, we receive two things in return: 1) a big smile from those people we helped, and yes, I mean people because animals cannot smile. It is a combination of joy and relief in a smile and 2) when the work is completed, it means that you can go back home to see your loved ones.
Is this the only way to help animals?
No, the best option is not responding one by one to each disaster and wait for them to happen. The best solution is when a whole society, starting with governments take actions to include animals in their plans reduce the risk of disasters and be prepared. Including animals in plans and policies, as well as understanding the economic, social and emotional impact of animal loss can reduce the concerns of many families and protect animals.
You can find more information on this website, please get in contact with us if you would like to start working to protect animals from disasters.