By Kitty Block
With New Delhi flooded by heavy rains just north of the city and the swelling Yamuna River, our Humane Society International/India colleagues are on the ground trying to help animals trapped in the chaos of human evacuation and relief efforts.
The affected animals in and around India’s capital city are mostly those in floodplain areas, on dairy farms, in gaushalas (shelters for stray cows) and on human settlements. HSl/India responders are in the field to provide relief. They’re distributing dog food and rice to sustain people’s dogs and other pets, feed for hundreds of farm animals and medicine for animal shelters caring for rescued animals. Our team has also been coordinating with the People for Animals Public Policy Foundation and the India Animal Fund to support advocates trying to help animals across the capital region.
It’s monsoon season in India, and this year has seen nearly unprecedented rainfall, more than 100% above normal patterns, including a torrential downpour that lashed several parts of the country from July 1 to 10. The Yamuna’s water level surged beyond the danger mark of 207 meters.
As emergencies like this one become more frequent, we’re devoting more time and energy to direct response to animals’ needs. Our team in India has learned the lesson we’re learning all over the world, too. When it comes to disaster and animal-related needs, preparedness planning is the strongest investment a nation, a region, a province or a municipality can possibly make.
That’s why, increasingly, HSI/India has focused greater attention and effort on promoting development planning and disaster risk reduction strategies, for the sake of people and animals. We do the same thing in the United States and other nations, too. It would be impossible for us to respond to every animal-related emergency, and we have to make judgments about whether local, state or federal agency responders can handle these situations on their own or with minimal guidance from us. When we know we can make the difference, we respond.
In India, as in many other places, it’s still too often the case that the plight of animals is overlooked in emergencies. But as we’ve learned in our work around the world, we do best when we focus on the needs of all, including animals. We need a broader mindset about the bond between humans and animals if we are to succeed not only in disaster response but in building a safer, more sustainable future for all. Making animals more visible to policy makers, responsible agencies and disaster planning experts will help ensure better outcomes for everyone.
India has experienced nearly 200 disasters over the last decade. That’s one of the main reasons HSI/India has pressed to bring animals into consideration at all levels of planning and risk assessment. Among other measures, our colleagues have encouraged the development of a common set of tools and guidelines for assessing the status of farm animals and companion animals in disaster situations. They have also emphasized the value of greater training and capacity-building efforts, stronger community engagement and the development of capabilities for constructing temporary shelters.
These are recommendations we’ve seen and supported in many parts of the world, and in the United States, especially following Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of the Gulf Coast in 2005. That searing experience shocked the nation and allowed us to make the case for animals’ inclusion with greater urgency and effect than had ever been the case. Planning and preparedness are still not as developed as one might hope, but we’ve made a good start, and I truly believe we must emphasize their importance at every opportunity.
It’s natural to want to help animals in immediate danger because of disaster or emergency, and we’re ready to do so when our presence will count. But it will count even more in the future if we can expand our cooperation with decision-makers in disaster response agencies throughout the world to develop response plans that take account of animals and the people trying to help them, understanding that the inclusion of animals in our preparedness planning is not a burden being added but a necessity for good emergency management, no matter the country and no matter the situation.