Taking the extra step for animals in Taiwan
For the Taiwanese people, Typhoon Morakot made landfall on August 8th was just going to be one of the many typhoons over the summer and nothing to really worry about and very similar to the hurricane was get every year on the east coast of North America. However, the many days of torrential rains that caused the severe flooding and deadly mudslides were unexpected and devastating. This was the worst weather related disaster for the island since 1950. The communities and animals in southern Taiwan province are still trying to recover from the August 8th (88) typhoon disaster.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare disaster response team traveled to Kaohsiung to meet with local government agencies and animal rescue groups to have a better understanding of the magnitude of the impact from the typhoon and assist with the response, only to discover that there were pre-existing stray animal problems and the groups were untrained and un-prepared for dealing with animals during a disaster.
When we started our assessments of the private shelters I was overwhelmed when I saw the amount of mud and debris that was in the shelter's dog pens covering the floor and water line marks near the ceiling. I knew many dogs drowned in the floods or were washed away to an uncertain demise. The lucky dogs were able to keep above the water or climb on the roof now are roaming around the shelter looking for food and many with skin problems. These shelters were built on the edge of villages to not disturb the neighbors but it also happens to be in the low lying and undeveloped parts of town. Not only were the animals affected but the kind-hearted grannies, aunties and uncles that looked after the animals were also living in this nightmare. I just felt the situation was horrible for the animals, their caretakers and their community.
We had a difficult time trying to find ways to get out to the townships most impacted by the mudslides for an assessment due to the poor weather and road closures due to public safety restrictions by the military. When we were finally granted access with the county animal health inspection and quarantine veterinarians, part of the roads we were traveling on had crumbled and fallen into the ravine or river below or were covered by mud and car sized boulders. It seemed like an image from a major earthquake. We were trying to get to a village called Xiaolin but when we arrived all we were able to see was a field of rubble and stone. This village had lost over 400 residents along with their pets and animals in just a few minutes when the mudslide covered the village in over fifteen feet of mud and rubble. I am incredibly saddened to see the amount of destruction due to the disaster and hope that there will be recovery soon.
We came to Taiwan to assist with the disaster response for animals but have learned that there is more to do to help the animals and their communities to prepare, plan, respond and evaluate to disasters.
We are planning to return to Taiwan in the near future to have a debriefing meeting with all stakeholders and participate in a vaccination and spay/neutering clinic with the county government and then to return to offer training in animal-related disaster to the animal rescue groups and government agencies.
Mr. De Zhong Du of Jianshan village in Taoyuan township had to walk over ten kilometers of dangerous road conditions with a six week old puppy clutched to his body, to get to the military road block to find transportation to the evacuee shelter. We met with Mr. Du and helped to provide dog food for his 30 rescued dogs. He thanked us for caring about the animals in the affected areas. He said "It’s already difficult to just care for the human victims during a tragedy let alone taking the extra step and caring about the animals of the disaster. I appreciate all the help IFAW is providing to us."
It will take a long time for the communities to recover and I am very proud to be part of the IFAW team to able to contribute to helping the communities and their animals during their most urgent hour.