Harsh monsoons test rescuers

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2006:
VISAKHAPATNAM–At least 49 people were reported dead in
Bangladesh and 46 in India on September 22, 2006, following the
ninth cyclone to hit the western coast of the Bay of Bengal in as
many weeks. The animal toll was not immediately available.
“We are hoping to get some help to add to our efforts,”
e-mailed Visakha SPCA president Pradeep Kumar Nath. “Help is needed
urgently for feed.”
The Visakha SPCA continued assisting animals elsewhere along
the stricken Bengal coast while rebuilding its own facilities,
destroyed by a cyclone and landslides on August 3, just 11 months
after a typhoon destroyed the previous facilities in September 2005.
“We send our deepest gratitude from the animals and villagers
for the flood relief help we have received from the World Society for
the Protection of Animals and individual donors,” Nath said before
the ninth cyclone hit. “So far we have been able to help more than
27,000 animals with over 66 ton of food, vaccinations, wound
treatment and deworming.”

The rising Vamsadhara River isolated some villages for as
long as 10 days, Nath reported, “with broken roads, bridges, and
in some areas a mile of chest-high water. The villagers have to walk
up to nine kilometers to receive help. ”
The Visakha SPCA had two mobile veterinary teams working in
the Vamsadhara and Srikakulam regions. An unpleasant discovery amid
the difficult conditions was an outbreak of blue tongue, a cattle
disease best known in Africa, previously believed to have been
eradicated almost everywhere else but also now occurring in the
Netherlands, Belgium, France, and Germany. Rescuers and residents
were also menaced by the previously rare debilitating mosquito-borne
disease Chikungunya fever.
Trying to reach 15 marooned villages on a damaged road, “Our
lorry fell into the river between Vizianagaram and Srikakaulam,”
Nath said. “The staff of four miraculously escaped while the
lorry was precariously perched on one side. We summoned a crane to
lift it out of the river. All were safe, although shaken, and
continued their vaccination work. Then our men, including the vet,
went through the standing waters walking over 3 miles to reach one
village. Despite the difficulties, they completed their mission.”
A similar report came from Mahesh Agar-wal, general
secretary of Bharatiya Prani Mitra Sangh, who worked in nearby
Andhra Pradesh.
“Nearly 160 villages lost dry grass and animal fodder,”
Mahesh Agarwal wrote. “Officially 100 animals were declared dead,
with 800 missing, but unofficially the figure runs into the
thousands. Nearly one month after the disaster the dead bodies of
animals were still seen in the river and thousands of animals were
temporarily sheltered on hillocks and bridges. After 25 days of
flooding we were the first to enter a few villages to distribute
fodder and medical aid to the animals.”
Violent stampedes broke out several times as fodder was
passed out, Mahesh Agarwal recounted.
Assessments from farther inland came from Humane Society
International representative Sherry Grant and Rahul Sehgal, founder
of Animal Help in Emergencies And Disasters. AHEAD is the first
Indian organization to specialize in animal disaster relief.
Grant earlier founded the Bali Street Dog Project in
Indonesia, while Seghal founded Animal Help Ahmedabad.
“All of the fodder land in [the afflicted part of] Orissa is
gone. Most mud shelters for cattle are destroyed. Standing crops
are gone, which impacts the fodder supply post harvest for late 2006
and early 2007,” Grant and Sehgal wrote. “Animals have been been
birthing, and the lack of grazing and fodder availability affects
milk production, hence compromises the health of the offspring,” as
well as impacting the human food supply.”
A government report estimated that 235,000 cattle, more than
9,000 buffalo, 53,000 “small animals,” and 66,000 “others” were
“Animals washed downstream are claimed by the villages they washed up
into. This is creating problems as these animals are not branded,”
Grant and Sehgal observed.
They saw “no other international charities on the scene.
India has turned away humanitarian charities guilty of coming in,
taking pictures, and then leaving,” Grant and Sehgal said. “Only
two local animal charities with minimal resources are responding with
fodder. The government delivered fodder to some areas we visited,
but others have received none. Government vets have not been to
inspect the health of the animals in any of the affected areas,
according to all of the villages we assessed.”
“We are not talking of the coastal areas,” Grant and Sehgal
emphasized, “which are regularly hit by floods and cyclones; we are
talking about the inland areas which usually get normal monsoon rains
that they depend on and manage as the water source for their crops
and cattle. These are very poor rural villages self-sustained by
dairy and wool production, and rice fields. This is not a region
that produces handicrafts. These villages do not use cars, and few
motorbikes were seen, but lots of bicycles and bullock carts. Many
buildings have never had telephone lines or electricity. Those who
had this infrastructure no longer have it, as it has been ruined.
This is a difficult area to use cell phones in, as there is
generally no signal.
“Fodder originally distributed on the highway was taken by
refugees and used to make roofs on temporary shelters for
themselves,” Grant and Sehgal continued. “People For Animals is
providing some villages with bags of husk fodder that is mixed with
water and vegetable cuttings, such as peels and tops. We assessed
the fodder distribution to animals who had not had food in the four
days since the last PFA visit. The animals ate the food in a mater
of minutes. They were very hungry. Cows were neck-deep in water
looking for fodder and eating water hyacinth and anything else green.
“The animals are not showing signs of sickness associated
with flooding and being wet for such a long time,” Grant and Sehgal
wrote, contrasting the situation with Rajasthan, on the opposite
side of India, normally a desert but hit hard by flooding in August
“Rajasthan still needs herds treated,” Grant told ANIMAL
PEOPLE. “They are very sick whereas in Orissa the animals are fit
but have no place to graze.”
Grant and Sehgal recommended that experts should “Evaluate
potential disease or illnesses that may affect the animals in the
near future and provide preventative care,” and “Research for future
understanding why these animals are not showing typical signs of
stress and illness from flood situations.”
Ironically, Grant and Sehgal noted, “Villagers claim sick
animals and want vaccines. But this is not part of the emergency,
and they don’t normally vaccinate.”
Grant and Sehgal also recommended, “Community
capacity-building to manage dry fodder stores for future floods.”

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