IFAW ER Update: Efforts During Bihar India's Worst Ever Flooding

This update on IFAW efforts to help animals during the worst flooding in Bihar's history was filed by the International Fund for Animal Welfare's Kandambari Mainkar.

Bihar_floodsimg_438901 IFAW-WTI's 18-member team, which includes four veterinarians, has been making daily forays into the flood hit areas in the northern Indian state of Bihar by boat and by four-wheel drive vehicles where possible. “The footprint of the flood is huge and we have been concentrating only in small but very badly affected areas in the Araria and Supol district,” IFAW-WTI team veterinarian Dr Anjan Talukdar said. The team is being helped by volunteers from IFAW-WTI Emergency Relief Network from the neighboring Jharkhand state and vet interns from the Bihar Veterinary College. Although the water is slowly receding and has drained out in several villages in the two districts, the people are unable to return home. As the water level recedes, the larger boats are unable to operate while the smaller boats are difficult to load with relief material because they need more power to move in the shallow water. In many areas the boat has to be pulled by people for miles on end.

It took the team nearly 24 hours due to rugged roads and logistic challenges to set up the first field veterinary clinic and a base camp for the team in Forbasegunj. Aside from the field clinic, the Emergency Relief team has a traveling veterinary clinic which has journeyed across Araria and Supol districts in Bihar; for long hours by car on rough roads or on boats supplied by the SSB (India's paramilitary unit) to marooned islands where livestock are dispersed around. Everywhere the team visited, many 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 many tents.

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Att198e3 Northern Bihar consisting of Supol, Madhepura, Araria, Purnea, Kishangaj districts bordering Nepal and Bangladesh is an agrarian economy with cattle being not just a livelihood but everything to the local people. Those who were forced to leave their cattle behind now have nothing now for their sustenance. However, there were many who stayed back with their animal families.

Pradyut Jha was one such farmer at the Chainpur village. He recounts: "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 boat came close to the village, the IFAW-WTI team waded through waist deep water 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 listlessly mouthing some dry straw and looked very weak.

“Although we did get a warning that a dam had broken, we did not believe it would create such a mammoth flood. For the past so many years we have been hearing someone or the other crying wolf; so we never took this seriously. Initially the flood waters took more than 24 hours to reach us but then it kept continuously rising. When it rose to more than five feet and the flow got very strong; many of the bamboo and mud houses broke and many people in the low-lying areas had to flee leaving everything; even their animals in some cases.”

Att42401 “I decided to stay back, because I just could not let my cattle die. The waters kept rising; while I was moving my goats to the roof, five of my calves were swept away. At one point the cows had just their noses above the water. For 24 hours the water remained at that level. If it had gone up by a few inches they would have drowned. Then it started receding, but the animals stood in three feet of water for at least ten days,” Jha said.

So far, the field team has been able to help at least 6000 animals - mainly cattle, buffalo and goats which survived the fury of the floods but were starving. Vitamin supplements were mixed 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 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 started eating a little more purposefully. They were also given herbal tonics for the liver, with salt for rejuvenation. Most of the animals had foot infections which were treated. The team moved from house to house led by Jha and then got all the people together for a quick lesson on the importance of hygiene and deworming.

Atteb876 No major cases of disease in animals was encountered, though the team is prepared with vaccination supplies to handle any signs of livestock disease outbreaks. Many animals were found to be severely malnourished. The team coordinated with the state animal husbandry department to reach much needed fodder to the starving animals in those flood-hit areas bringing life back in those animals and joy to those owners.

Photos: GreenPower/Chandan Singh

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