RANGOON — As fallout continues from the worst flooding in decades to hit several regions in Burma, aid groups say that in addition to the ongoing humanitarian needs of people affected by the high waters, thousands of farm animals urgentlyrequirefood and medicine.
Nearly 1.6 million people have been affected by the heavy monsoon rains and subsequent landslides that began in mid-July, leaving at least 110 people dead, and damaging or destroyingnearly650,000 acres of farmland, as well as homes, bridges and roads.
But Four Paws, a Vienna-based international animal welfare organization, said thousands of animals are also caught up in the crisis, especially livestock such as cows and pigs, which now urgently need drinking water, foodand temporary shelter.
The group said it has sent a “rapid response team” to the Irrawaddy Delta, one of the worst-affected areas and home to a particularly large number of farm animals that have little access to food, to provide emergency care for about 10,000 cows, buffaloes, pigs and goats.
Dr. Amir Khalil, leader of the Four Paws rapid response team, said in a press release on Wednesday that in addition to the perils to survival posed by a lack of food and potable water, many animals are left standing in stagnant floodwaters, increasing their risk of contracting waterborne diseases.
The dangers facing these animals, he said, could have knock-on effects for local farmers and the broader economy, given that 70 percent of the country’s workforce is involved in agriculture.
“With the loss of their animals, many people have also lost their livelihoods. Those who have been able to save their animals now have no way of looking after them,” Khalil said, adding that provision of veterinary care would not be possible in some places until the situation began to normalize and accessing those areas became easier.
ThetZaw, a program officer from a mobile medical team of the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society, which is collecting donations for flood victims and delivering aid supplies to flood-affected areas, said 10,000 cattle are facing starvation in Irrawaddy Division’s Ingapu Township. The livestock could die in the next five daysif they are not supplied with sufficientfood and veterinary care, he said.
“It is an urgent situation to save them. They are too weak now because of [food] deprivation and their skin is badlychaffed,” he said, adding that provision of adequate food was the priority, and that donors were coming around to the importance of ensuring livestock are provided for.
“It is important to feed them first. We can’t cure them immediately. We need to feed them as soon as possible and only after that, we can cure them,” ThetZaw said, adding that donationsof antibioticsand other medical supplies were welcomed.
He acknowledged that, though the group is now providing emergency care tolivestock, the animals were neglected in the early days of the crisis as the needs of affected human populations were prioritized.
Even some of the people receiving assistance did not agree with that approach, he said, recalling how one ailing 60-year-old woman in an Irrawaddy Delta village pleaded with aid workers to shift their focus to the animals, which she referred to as “our benefactors.”
“Even without you guys caring for us, we can find ways to survive,” ThetZaw quoted the woman as saying.“We are people; we have intelligence. Not like us, but together struggling with us, our benefactors don’t have that intellect and they can’t stand like us. Only if we look after them will they live.”
ThetZawsaid nearly 100 cows are dying everyday in the region, with serious implications for the planting and harvesting seasons that will follow once floodwaters recede.
“The government also needs to allocate cows there,” he added.
Speaking to the state-run daily Global New Light of Myanmar,Dr.Sann Win, head of the Ingapu Township Livestock Breeding and Veterinary Department, said that although the township sees flooding annually, this year’s inundationhas been much worse than usual.
But the official told the newspaper that the number of cattle in urgent need of emergency provisions was lower than the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society’s estimate of 10,000 cattle.
Dr.TunLwin, information officer for the Ministry of Livestock, Fisheries and Rural Development, said that through Tuesday, the flooding in total had killed 5,538 cows, 3,005 buffaloes, 6,335 pigs andnearly 210,000 chickens, at an estimated cost ofat least 5 billion kyats (US$3.9 million).
“They[the government] will support farm animals in flood-affected areas, but there are not yet details of the plan,” he said, adding thatministerial departments in flood-affected regions were fielding veterinary medical teams and supplying stock and feed to farmers who request it.