This post was submitted by Ashfaq Fateh – Field Manager for the collaborative International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) – Ravi Foundation (RF) Emergency Relief response in Pakistan.
A 58 year-old woman named Jinda Mai from Kotla Hajji Shah had only one buffalo. She had no money to pay to the motor boat people to rescue her and her buffalo. She begged to no avail. She refused to leave her place and decided to remain stranded in the water. She stayed there for two days, she and her buffalo, without any food or water. Eventually she was rescued by Pakistani troops who pulled her and her buffalo out of the flood waters.
We asked her why she risked losing her life by refusing to be rescued without her buffalo. Jinda Mai simply replied: “My buffalo is not a simple animal, she is my whole world. She is my friend and I couldn’t bear leaving her in flood water”
The devastating floods across Pakistan hit vast areas surrounding the Indus River in the past few months. People, animals, infrastructure and standing crops were swept away. Thousands of the villages removed from the face of the earth. Millions of people and their livestock were left stranded in water and recue teams saved just a small number of animals. The fortunate few who received flood warnings beforehand were able to move some of their animals but were immediately confronted with the harsh reality of not knowing where or how to live and care for them.
According to the UN, the disaster has now hit over 30 million people. The Government of Punjab estimated over 100 million livestock, horses and donkeys were affected in four districts of Southern Punjab, namely, Dera Ghazi Khan, Rajanpur, Muzzafargrah and Layyah.
The Ravi Foundation (RF), an organization named after the River Ravi, closely monitored the disastrous situation. The team observed the initial relief efforts carried out for the human victims of the flood. It also observed that each flood affected family has, on average, six to seven animals to care for as they evacuate from their homes. Two weeks after the start of the disaster no animal relief work or preventive vaccination campaigns had been launched, absolutely no one was helping the animals.
At that point RF decided to focus its efforts on livestock and companion animals (horses and donkeys); however there were no funds available. All along the team had been communicating with the International Fund for Animal Welfare. IFAW immediately accepted an appeal to conduct an assessment and the team made several initial visits to the District of Layyah.
We visited different clusters of the animals and found hundreds of thousands of wandering animals in search of food. We saw animals walking aimlessly on main roads of the city causing traffic jams, lost and distraught by the sound of cars, buses and pressure horns coming from every direction.
When we talked to local farmers and animal keepers, we learned that the livelihood and survival of the river bed areas were based on animals. Some of them declared the animals “their asset” some said, their “survival is conditioned by their animals” and “animals need love and care”.
IFAW’s emergency relief efforts in Pakistan have provided life-saving feed for close to 8,000 animals in the five union councils in Southern Punjab. We registered the animals in different clusters and issued them tokens to collect the feed from distribution point. Half-way through the first two stages of operation, we have conducted large feed distributions on August 28 and September 4, 2010.
The feed program was highly appreciated by people of various sections of life. We have received all sorts of positive comments. People have stated that IFAW and RF are the only ones thinking of animals during this disaster that the feed program ‘highlights the importance of animals in our daily life’. The fact is that the mind set of the people in Southern Punjab is shifting to one of increased love and respect for nature.
Despite our efforts to feed four thousand animals per week, there are thousands more left hungry. Even so, our program has a great impact as it increases awareness among the public at large and encourages the government to address the issues of animals too. It has helped to influence policy makers to add animal considerations in their long-term plans for the flood hit areas. It impacted media, civil society and public representatives to help the affected animals.
The waters are starting to recede in some areas and farmers have started to clear their fields to cultivate crops and fodder. However, fodder crop will not be ready until November. The alternative feeds we are providing to animals is the only thing that is keeping them alive at the moment. Many of the flood-affected families make ends meet through milk production. It has been reported that milk yield has drastically gone down in flood affected areas; animals simply don’t have enough food.
IFAW is feeding four thousand livestock and companion animals a week in Southern Punjab. There are thousands more awaiting feed and struggling for survival. I urge everyone to come forward and contribute to ensure the survival of animals and human beings.
To help, visit www.ifaw.org today.