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When natural disasters strike, we must remember the animals

Earthquakes and other natural disasters can cause great destruction. Animals who are injured in these disasters often become the forgotten victims.

Eight years ago, at 5pm on the 12th of January, Haitian dogs started barking incessantly. The ground was shaken by a powerful earthquake that unleashed its immense power. It killed over 240,000 people, and left thousands of animals injured or forgotten.

This massive loss of human life was unimaginable and heartbreaking. Haiti’s capital, Port-Au-Prince, was devastated by the earthquake. Millions of people lost homes and their lives in Haiti, which was already one of the poorest countries in America.

Humanitarian agencies and governments from around the world quickly sent humanitarian aid into Haiti. However, the government of Haiti also needed assistance with thousands of animals that were dying or injured on the island. Our vets arrived on the ground within 72 hours of the island’s violent shaking.

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Support at the ground

Our vets were able to see the devastation that the island had experienced from the window as they flew in to Port-Au-Prince. It was clear to them that providing assistance and rehabilitation for injured animals in such dire circumstances would be their most difficult mission. Once the engines were running, it was time to establish mobile veterinary clinics in order to provide relief for the injured and maimed animals affected by the earthquake’s aftermath.

Mobile clinics raced to each site, carefully planning how to reach as many animals possible. The team devised a novel solution to let Haitians know help was near. One of the mobile clinics would drive along the roads shouting messages using a megaphone. Although not very technological, it is effective. After the natural disaster, there would be a long line of people waiting to help.

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It became clear quickly that one organization could not help so many animals in dire need. So we formed the Animal Relief Coalition for Haiti (ARCH) with 20 other animal welfare organizations.

This allowed us to pool our resources and maximize the number of animals that we could help. We worked tirelessly to treat 70,000 animals, many of which would have died if they didn’t receive our help.

Haiti’s animals were almost all unvaccinated in 2010. There was no refrigeration and little vaccine availability. Anthrax and rabies were two of the most important diseases to prevent their spread to the population.

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Prepare for the future

Eight years ago, saving lives was our immediate priority. However, we also assisted Haiti in the long-term rehabilitation and partnered with the Haitian government to provide a better life for its animals. This was long after the international aid agencies had left. Haiti is better equipped to take care of its animals in the event of another disaster.

One billion people worldwide, including many Haitians are dependent on their livestock for their food, transport, and livelihood. Through our work in animal rehabilitation, governments now understand the importance of protecting animals so that they can help people during an earthquake, flood or hurricane.

Many governments have partnered with us to build typhoon-resistant shelters. We also offer other preparedness and prevention solutions that we have developed over time for farm animals. These measures reduce suffering and improve the ability of communities to protect their future livelihoods.

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Five years ago, the Haiti earthquake struck. We were also able secure an historic agreement with the United Nations Member States to assess the effects of disasters on animals as part Disaster Risk Reduction. This will ensure that more animals are better protected against natural disasters. It will also protect the economic survival and wellbeing of communities living in dangerous areas around the globe.

The 12th of January 2010 was the most tragic day in world history. 2017 saw more destruction and chaos in the Caribbean, as hurricane after hurricane plowed into the islands. It is crucial that governments in disaster zones do more to prepare for the worst by making sure animals are protected in national emergency plans.

Many people depend on their animals to survive in many countries. We are committed to the welfare of both. As a matter urgent, we are working with other countries to address this issue of life and death.

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