India’s Disaster Management Act 2005 is shockingly silent on the issue of animals notwithstanding the fact that they touch the lives of an average Indian much more than anywhere else in the world.
The devastatingly recurrent Kosi floods of Bihar have repeatedly brought out information that villagers have refused to leave their villages without their cattle, which are actually economic assets for them. The pets, stray, domesticated livestock and wild animals are the State’s responsibility. So how can they be left behind when disaster strikes?
This made Bihar bring out data on affected and lost animals following the 2008 Kosi floods.
The data was appalling: 19,323 livestock perished in the floods.
The Andhra Pradesh (AP) report after the 1977 cyclone mentioned 40,000 cattle deaths.
In 1990 and 1996 cyclones in AP, around six lakh houses and 4, 35,000 acres of land was destroyed but there was no mention of animal deaths.
The Orissa report that followed the floods of June-September 2008 took a more holistic approach when it gave a segregated data on lost animals, not just of cattle and buffaloes alone but for horses, camels, donkey’s sheep, goats and poultry.
The recent Kashmir floods again exposed the human-centric approach of disaster management agencies when it released data of 6.5 lakh houses destroyed and two lakh displaced people even though poor villagers were lamenting the loss of their cows.
India’s disaster management agencies could learn from the experience of hurricane Katrina officials.
In Louisiana, the Katrina Dog Rescue retrieved several pets from flooded and broken homes. They were able to reunite some, rehabilitate a few in new homes but a large majority of them continue to look for their pets till today and some even seek counselling to get over the loss of these loved ones.
Disaster management institutions here could do at least two things: First, allocate funding for those states that make provisions for animal evacuation, rescue and rehabilitation in their disaster management plans. Second, bring together many animal welfare organisations the way American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and International Fund for Animal Welfare are deployed to rescue and relocate animals.
Can we forget the ‘snowball’ story of Hurricane Katrina in 2005: A nine-year-old boy refused to leave his home without his dog, Snowball.
This forced the US Congress to pass the Pet Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act. It is ironic that the Indian Parliament is still waiting to see someone like Tom Lantos and Christopher Shays of the US House of Representatives who introduced the Bill on animal protection and animal rights during disasters in US Congress and transformed the pedagogy of disaster management.
Amita Singh is professor of law and governance, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. The views expressed are personal.