India plans disaster rescue unit for livestock

By Raghavendra Verma, in New Delhi

- Last updated on GMT

Disasters like drought can affect livestock production
Disasters like drought can affect livestock production

Related tags Livestock India Lamb Poultry

The Indian government is to create a national Veterinary Emergency Response Unit, charged with protecting the country’s huge livestock population during natural disasters, such as floods, fires, droughts and earthquakes, a New Delhi conference has heard.

“We are going to train the students of Indian veterinary colleges in disaster management techniques, so they can rush to save livestock whenever a disaster strikes,”​ S Abdul Rahman, president of the Commonwealth Veterinary Association, told​.
Rahman was attending India’s first National Conference on Animal Disaster Management, held in New Delhi on 17-18 April. Jointly organised by India’s National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), the conference also included delegates from Japan, Australia and Costa Rica, who shared their experiences in saving animals.

R M Kharb, the chairman of the Animal Welfare Board of India told the conference that, “in order to empower the veterinarians, we have been conducting training programmes in Jaipur [Rajasthan], Gangtok [Sikkim] and Ooty [Tamil Nadu], with the help of Vets Beyond Borders, the Humane Society International and Worldwide Veterinary Service, from the UK.”

Explaining how livestock should be protected during a disaster, Kharb said: “We need to create shelters and animal camps, and provide fodder and water, which is very challenging.”

This, he said, should be followed by the veterinary treatment, vaccination, disease prevention and disposal of the carcases. Once the disaster is over, he said, tasks include rehabilitating animals, preventing disease, treating injuries and arranging for deliveries of fresh feed and fodder.

According to the last livestock census conducted by the Indian ministry of agriculture, there were 199 million cattle, 71 million sheep, 140 million goats, 11 million pigs and 649 million poultry in the country.

Inaugurating the conference, Sharad Pawar, India’s minister for agriculture and food processing industries noted that the government has recently established a National Animal Disease Reporting System, including warnings of zoonotic diseases, which will help public officials assess and respond quickly to disease outbreaks.

Giving a current example, Pawar mentioned that his home state Maharashtra is facing a drought and the government is running 850 cattle camps to shelter 650,000 animals at an expense of US$100m.

India’s National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), a part of NDMA, is also getting prepared to face the new challenges. “We have been telling people how to save themselves, but from now on we will also tell them how to protect their cattle,”​ said Rajesh Kumar, assistant commandant in the NDRF, who was supervising an exhibition showing various search and rescue equipment to the conference delegates.

Kumar told​ that, during disaster rescue operations, Indian villagers sometimes refuse to leave without their cattle. And even in a crisis situation they fail to untie their livestock due to the fear of losing them, which often proves fatal for the animals.

Further highlighting the importance of livestock in India, Amarjeet Singh Nanda, India’s animal husbandry commissioner, said: “As 80% of Indian farmers own animals, improving livestock production, livestock productivity and taking care of animal health is [very] important…”

Nanda added: “Disaster management is primarily to give immediate relief from pain and increase the chances of livestock survivability, but the long-term goal is to keep animals healthy so that their products are also healthy.”

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