Disaster risk reduction is a classic case of a business idea leading to social change. Risk analysis was pioneered by business analysts seeking to quantify the risk of natural disasters for the finance and insurance industries. Since then, we have made good use of this discipline to build community resilience to disaster risk. Triggered by a 1962 earthquake in Iran that killed more than 12,000 people, the global movement towards disaster response and risk reduction began, and it continued to grow in the decades that followed.
With climate change, increasing population and increasing frequency of disasters, mainstreaming inclusive disaster risk reduction for a sustainable and resilient future is the need of the hour. But how well is “inclusivity” defined in this context?
Rise in disasters: revealing figures
The frequency of disasters has increased dramatically over the past decade. According to the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, 432 disasters occurred in 2021; while in comparison, the average number of disasters for the 20-year period from 2001 to 2020 was only 347. Of all the continents, Asia was the most affected with 40% of the disaster share .
And according to the Emergency Events Database, India has witnessed 191 disasters in the past 11 years.
These unfortunate numbers are expected to increase further in the years to come. In 2022, the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned of a future increase in disasters – mainly floods, but also intense droughts, water shortages, destructive fires, the sea level rise, melting polar ice and catastrophic storms.
Drastic impact of disasters on animals: why it’s a big problem in India
Farm animals play a major role in the Indian economy, contributing almost 30% of the total agricultural GDP. The 20th Livestock Census of 2019 reported that India’s total livestock stood at 536.76 million. More than 70% of rural households in our country keep livestock, which means that more than two-thirds of the rural community depend on livestock for their livelihood. Most of them are pastoralists.
In a multi-hazard country like India, being prepared for those hazards is key to securing livestock. As the National Disaster Management Authority’s flood guidelines suggest, in India nearly one million cattle are lost to floods each year. Some 44% of the country’s livestock, including buffaloes, cattle, goats and pigs, are affected by droughts and cyclones that kill hundreds of animals each year. To Humane Society International/Indiawe helped thousands of stranded pets get home and provided tons of food during recent floods in Kerala, Karnataka, West Bengal and Assam.
Very little data is available to understand the number of community animals (such as dogs and cats) and wild animals (such as elephants and rhinos) lost in disasters. When pastoralists lose their animals, the loss has financial as well as psychological effects. The loss of livestock to herders could hasten a family’s descent into poverty, intensifying their vulnerability and making it harder to build resilience to possible future hazards.
Urgent need for better inclusion and long-term preparedness
India’s disaster management system has grown since the 2004 tsunami, but the inclusion of animals in the legislative framework for disaster response has remained a growing concern. Although we have a National Livestock and Wildlife Disaster Management Plan, the policy response involved emphasizes crisis response over proactively building resilience in anticipation of such a crisis.
This is unfortunate, given that the United Nations suggests that for every dollar spent on disaster risk reduction, seven dollars will be saved from disaster losses.
A new approach to understanding and anticipating disaster risks and taking long-term preparedness measures is urgently needed. In addition, the needs of companion animals or the community must be taken into account in planning at the community level. The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction is an ambitious global agreement that aims to significantly reduce disaster risk and the loss of lives and livelihoods.
Unfortunately, the Disaster Management Act 2005 makes no mention of animals. The Act does not include animals in the definition of disasters, but their inclusion in the Act will provide legal support and a conceptual framework to meet their needs. This will in turn encourage state authorities to engage in various animal risk reduction and planning programs.
Here are some areas of improvement to build resilience and include animals in India’s disaster management system:
1. Independent Animal-Based Disaster Management Plan: This can be used by the Livestock Department, State Disaster Management Authorities and District Disaster Management Authorities to facilitate animal inclusion and ensure greater commitment to risk reduction at all levels of disaster management planning.
2. Tools and guidelines for risk assessment: Too often, government authorities lack the tools or guidance needed to assess the risks associated with disasters affecting animals. For example, a hazard, risk, vulnerability and capacity assessment is a participatory assessment tool used to understand existing hazards and risks to animals. But its use in India to assess the status of farmed, companion and wild animals is almost non-existent. A common set of tools and guidelines for conducting such assessments at all levels of government should be an integral part of a well-designed disaster management plan.
3. Training and capacity building: Training of national and state disaster response forces on first aid, animal handling and the development of training modules for institutional and effective management of animals in emergencies will also help strengthen the response to disasters. For example, in 2016, the National Disaster Management Authority launched an initiative to train and engage community volunteers in India’s 30 most flood-prone districts. Similar programs can be replicated for animal rescue work during disasters and other animal-related emergencies.
4. Better community engagement: Local communities should be involved in all stages of planning and implementing preparedness measures. For example, HSI/India conducted a monsoon preparedness program for livestock and pets in Kerala and Odisha against floods, cyclones and landslides this year. The program focused on capacity building within rural communities and involved training programs, mapping of temporary shelter locations and dissemination of publicity material.
5. Right to temporary shelter: Some states in India (including Odisha) have, in limited numbers, built temporary animal shelters. This is an important gap to fill, as animals during evacuation alerts are often left behind due to a lack of housing capacity. At the national level, a temporary animal shelter can be designed taking into account the varied needs of different animal species. This is a model that state authorities can then replicate.
6. Mainstreaming Disaster Risk Reduction: Most livestock are concentrated in rural areas, and mainstreaming disaster risk reduction can provide a safety net for animals and, therefore, rural livelihoods. Including animal concerns in government preparedness and development plans at all levels will help communities protect their animals from disasters and support poverty reduction.
When we say that disaster risk management must be inclusive, while ensuring equal rights, dignity and the right to livelihoods for all human beings, we are first of all highlighting the need for include animals whose welfare in disasters and emergencies is inextricably linked to ours. Existing response mechanisms mostly ignore animal welfare and disaster risk protection.
It is unfortunate that our conventional definition of disasters and response approaches also ignores animals. In contrast, Article 52(G) of our constitution states that “it shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment, including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures. From this constitutional mandate, it follows that it is our duty to protect animals from disasters and ensure their well-being.
Hazards and emergencies do not discriminate based on species or societal priorities, but human responses to disasters often do!
Praveen Suresh is the Director of the Department of Disaster Preparedness, Response and Relief at Humane Society International/India. With half a decade of experience in the field, Praveen has worked with governmental and non-governmental organizations in the development of disaster management plans, field interventions, risk assessment studies, emergency response, capacity building, etc.
This article is a guest column reflecting the views of the author and does not necessarily represent the official views of The Weather Channel.