Animal Rescue operations underway in flooded Bihar, India

Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Bihar, India
Entire villages have been washed away in India’s northern state of Bihar after a deadly combination of monsoon rains and a dam burst caused a deluge that spreads over countless miles of farming land.  IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare – www.ifaw.org) deployed an Emergency Relief team to the impacted area and has since treated and fed over 6000 starving livestock that escaped the fury of the catastrophic floods.

On August 18th, a flash flood resulting from a broken embankment on the river Kosi in neighbouring Nepal swept away thousands of human beings and animals with many villages wiped off the face of the earth. Millions of people and cattle are staying in makeshift camps made out of plastic sheets and bamboo. The army and para-military forces have also put up tented camps.

Coordinating with the government rescue and relief machinery, the 10-member team, which includes veterinarians and animal care staff, has been making daily forays inside the flood hit areas by boat and by four wheel drives wherever possible.

"The footprint of the flood is huge and we have been concentrating only in a small but very badly affected area in the Araria and Supaul district," said Dr. Anjan Talukdar, IFAW team veterinarian. The team is also being helped by volunteers from IFAW’s Emergency Relief Network in India

Although the water is slowly receding and has drained out of several villages in the two districts, the people are unable to return home. Locals estimate the number of cattle in the area to be about 24,000. Many more are still marooned in the interiors with no food for three weeks now. As the water level recedes, the rotting carcasses of many animals that are not being saved from the floods could pose a threat of spreading diseases. The ER team is travelling to marooned areas to help animals as well as educating animal owners on precautions to prevent worm infestations and disease outbreaks.  

Northern Bihar consisting of Supaul, Madhepura, Araria, Purnea, Kishangaj districts bordering Nepal and Bangladesh is agricultural country, rich with cattle considered maal or wealth. "People value their livestock here and won’t just let it go. Those who left animals behind were forced to. They are as dear to them as their children" Ajatshatru Singh, a local leader said.

Pradyut Jha was one such farmer who stayed back at the Chainpur village with his cattle. The village looked like a tidal surge had gone through it. Whole trees had been uprooted. All the bamboo and mud huts had collapsed. The brick and mud houses were damp and dripping. Water was flowing through parts of the village. As the boats came close to the village, the IFAW team waded through waist deep water to get to get inside. Snakes swam away as they waded forward. The team found 10 cows and three goats on a platform with one recently dead cow amidst them. The animals were listless, mouthing some dry straw and looked very weak.

The team immediately got to work mixing vitamins and nutritional supplements with the straw. "If animals don't get food for a long time they start losing interest in food and don't have the strength to eat. This is thus a vicious cycle which makes them weaker and therefore prone to infections and a slow death. So we need to first break this cycle by making them interested in food and once they have the strength to eat they will slowly regain their stamina," Dr Talukdar said. The cows seemed to respond to the taste and had started eating a little more purposefully.

"It is actually providential that the water continues to flow and is not stagnating, because stagnant water is the root cause of all infections and disease. I think we are looking at a long haul here. I don't see this situation stabilising for at least four months. Certain areas which have been completely devastated might take even longer," said Chandan Singh Executive Director for humanitarian NGO, GreenPower India, who has been active in the human relief effort and also has two veterinarians working with him.

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