Five Tokyo Summit Questions for IFAW Disasters Manager Dick Green
AW: Why a summit and not more action on the ground?
DG: We met with the groups primarily responsible for rescuing and sheltering the companion animals impacted by the disaster and have offered our support and will continue to do so in the months to come. We feel that these groups have a solid plan in place and with the support of the international animal welfare community, they are in a good position to provide the help needed for the companion animals.
Therefore, we felt that we could be of more value to the animals not only in Japan but worldwide, by convening this meeting. Keep in mind that we are not only going to address the specific situation in Japan but the work of these experts will be shared with communities across the globe with nuclear reactors in their back yard so hopefully, we will not be confronted with some of these difficult issues again.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare will not knowingly place a responder in harm's way. To safely rescue animals from the 20 km zone requires personal protective equipment (PPE) for the rescuer; monitoring equipment to measure radiation levels in the zone and on the animal; decontamination procedures in place to ensure safety to human and animals alike; and then adequate quarantine areas to monitor the animal before reuniting with their owner or placing in temporary sheltering. We have offered our assistance to the lead agencies in developing these safety procedures and for assisting in the rescue process and certainly, we will share our work from the Summit with those groups who have been assigned rescue duties.
AW: Who is coming to this summit in Tokyo?
DG: There will be an equal number of Japanese and American representatives coming from academia, agriculture, animal welfare, and government ranks. All of the experts bring a strong understanding and/or experience of dealing with animals impacted by radiation. These individuals are highly recognized and respected in their field and our hope is that policy makers and planning experts worldwide will listen to the recommendations that come from this group.
AW: How many animals are you estimating need help?
DG: That's a tough question as the "help" that can be provided for the animals will likely differ by species. Companion animals, especially those that are still in the home, may have a high rate of survivability and our hope is that a plan will be developed to address those animals that can be captured, decontaminated, and sheltered in such a way that they do not pose a risk for the rest of the animal and human population. The wildlife - as we have seen following Chernobyl - may have a high degree of survivability. Our concerns with wildlife is to ensure that the Threatened Species are given priority status when developing relief plans.
In some cases, helping animals means ending their suffering, in other words humane euthanasia of animals that are suffering and have very little chance of surviving due to exposure to radiation or the inability to provide for their basic needs. There will also likely be depopulation efforts for those animals raised for human consumption that would place the consumer at risk - assuming that their survivability was in serious question. So, as you can see, there will not be a one-size fits all plan in this situation.
AW: How do the effects of this disaster play out of the coming years?
DG: The only model we have is Chernobyl and the majority of the research done following that disaster involves wildlife. There are some givens to work from such as: long-term contamination of soil, loss of habitat, access issues, risk to care-takers, cross-contamination, etc. One can only assume that the areas close to the Fukushima Power Plant will not be habitable for years. this will require a population shift and that will have a huge impact on families and all species. Undoubtedly we will see significant economic, cultural, and sociological changes as a result of this population shift. We may also see a need for long-term feeding and sheltering plans.
AW: What will be the next steps?
DG: Our hope is to have our recommendations to the Government of Japan shortly after our meeting. Distilling all of the discussions into a form that will assist community planners will likely take a little longer but we recognize how important our job is and we will do everything we can to make the information available as soon as we possibly can.
I see this as just the first step in developing recommendations for responding to animals following a nuclear accident. The work from this Committee will serve as a springboard for a global meeting of experts in the very near future to address best practices, lessons learned and response procedures and protocols.
For more information about the International Fund for Animal Welfare effort to save animals in crisis around the world visit http://www.ifaw.org