Commemorating the United Nations International Day for Disaster Reduction

Today, October 13, is the UN International Day for Disaster Reduction and this day in particular, brings back many memories of my service there and the experience of working on the UN compound alongside personnel devastated yet working hard to continue their mission amidst the rubble.Today, October 13, is the UN International Day for Disaster Reduction and this day in particular, brings back many memories of my service there and the experience of working on the UN compound alongside personnel devastated yet working hard to continue their mission amidst the rubble. A few days after the devastating earthquake shook the island nation of Haiti last year, I found myself in Port au Prince working on contract with the United Nations to identify staff and their families who perished during the disaster. Today, October 13, is the UN International Day for Disaster Reduction and this day in particular, brings back many memories of my service there and the experience of working on the UN compound alongside personnel devastated yet working hard to continue their mission amidst the rubble.

I remember the dogs in the arms of those who would stop by our make shift morgues looking for a lost loved one. The human-animal bond was never so evident to me than in those moments when the animal unconditionally loved and comforted their human. Of course saving people is a priority when disasters strike, but now it is recognized that saving animals is vital too. Indeed, in most instances, helping people and helping animals go hand in hand.

Farmers cannot survive without their farm animals, diseases in animals can spread to people, communities that depend on wildlife tourism can be ruined, and people in disasters want their pets rescued. The disasters range from catastrophic events, affecting thousands of animals, to a crisis that may impact upon just a few or even one animal. These include natural disasters, such as hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, volcanoes, and man-made disasters, such as oil spills, fires, and war. There are growing fears that climate change will increase the number of disasters the world faces and place many animal species under threat.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare Emergency Relief Team and other animal organizations operate around the globe. Rescue teams have to be activated at a moment’s notice. The United Nations recently launched an appeal to help disaster-stricken people in Pakistan and is busy with a relief mission in war-torn Libya (UNSMIL), two places where IFAW is currently active and providing much needed relief to the animal victims. 2011 has been a specially busy year for us  and just this last week we added a new relief effort in the Philippines. Major disasters also grab attention in the media.

This provides the opportunity to gain public and political support for campaigns for better laws and regulations to protect animals. But perhaps the most important part of effective emergency relief is advance preparation. Contingency plans must be developed with governments, industry, and international agencies using scientifically sound standards and protocols.

When a response takes place, it also provides an opportunity to train local people so they are prepared to handle any similar crisis in the future. In the last couple of decades emergency relief responses have resulted in many thousands of animals being saved and the expertise of those involved has grown year by year. It is clear that in the future such expertise will continue to be important if we are to provide a better world for animals - and people too. -- SW

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Experts

Alexa Kessler, Projektleiterin für den Bereich Haustiere, IFAW Deutschland
Projektleiterin für den Bereich Haustiere, IFAW Deutschland
Cora Bailey
Director, Community Led Animal Welfare (CLAW)
Cynthia Milburn, Direktorin Tierschutzaufklärung und -bildung
Direktorin Tierschutzaufklärung und -bildung
Dr. Ian Robinson, Vizepräsident für Kampagnen und internationale Angelegenheiten
Vizepräsident für Kampagnen und internationale Angelegenheiten
Gail A'Brunzo, Leiterin IFAW Wildtierschutz
Leiterin Wildtierschutz, IFAW
Hanna Lentz, Programm-Managerin/Campaignerin, IFAW Zentrale USA
Programm-Managerin/Campaignerin, IFAW Zentrale USA
Kate Nattrass Atema, Programmdirektorin Haustiere
Programmdirektorin Haustiere
Nancy Barr, Programmdirektorin Kinder- und Jugendprogramm “Animal Action“
Programmdirektorin Kinder- und Jugendprogramm “Animal Action“
Shannon Walajtys
Leiterin des Bereichs Katastrophenhilfe