What are we doing about the impacts of disasters?

Cathy Watson relays her recent trip to the World Humanitarian Summit where she promoted the Livestock Emergency Guidelines and Standards (LEGS).

In May 2016 I was in Istanbul for the World Humanitarian Summit - along with about 6,000 other people. Heads of state, donors, international and local organisations came together to discuss how we can respond better to the growing number of crises around the world.

These crises, both natural and man-made, leave people without food, water, shelter and health care. At the same time – but often overlooked – their livelihoods are also badly affected, and for many livestock are a key part of those livelihoods. From herders in East Africa to farmers in Indonesia, millions of people around the world depend on animals as a source of food, income, building materials and social status.

When disasters happen livestock are often killed, and even those that survive may, like their owners, be short of food, water, shelter and health care. This has a significant impact on the livelihoods of the people as well as on the animals.

Working with LEGS

I was at the Istanbul Summit to promote the Livestock Emergency Guidelines and Standards - LEGS for short. LEGS was developed ten years ago because the impact of disasters on livestock – and on people’s livelihoods – was often overlooked by humanitarian workers. When emergency responses did include livestock they were often inappropriate or poorly implemented, for example animal feed arriving after the drought had ended.

LEGS is based on experience and learning from around the world. The LEGS approach focuses on the role that animals play in people’s livelihoods. Building on the knowledge and skills that livestock keepers already have, it helps to prioritise the most appropriate activities to respond to the crisis. These activities range from providing animal feed, water, health care and shelter for animals exposed to extreme weather, to restocking communities with animals to replace those lost, once the crisis is over.

The LEGS Handbook has guidelines, participatory tools and checklists on all these technical areas, to help humanitarian and development workers to give high quality support to people affected by crisis.  The approach is rolled out through a global training and awareness programme to build capacity to deliver appropriate support to livestock keepers in crisis.

Saving lives, livelihoods – and money

More and more, humanitarian organisations recognise that supporting livelihoods during crises helps to reduce vulnerability and increase resilience in the face of future disasters. When the food aid has dried up, people need their livelihoods in order to support themselves. Working with livestock keepers to protect and rebuild their herds and flocks can make a major contribution to this.

There is also evidence that supporting livelihoods in disasters can actually reduce the need for food aid. For example, research in Ethiopia [1] found that feeding milk-producing livestock during drought reduced the number of malnourished children. It can also save money: destocking projects, giving livestock owners a good price for their surplus animals in the early stages of a drought, can provide benefits of up to $390 for every $1 spent – based on savings in food aid, and livestock deaths avoided.

Where do we go from here?

LEGS has been adopted by many organisations and individuals working disaster response, including staff from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and NGOs such as World Animal Protection and Save the Children. Over 350 people have been trained as LEGS Trainers and they have gone on to train more than 4,300 people in 42 countries around the world.

However, there is still more to be done. The rising number of disasters around the world means the number of livestock affected is also growing. This represents a significant amount of wealth and income lost. LEGS is therefore needed more than ever.

At the same time, the amount of spending on livestock in disaster response is still pitifully low. For example, in the 2011 drought in Ethiopia US$ 800 million was spent on relief, but only US$ 17.8 million - 2.2% -  of this was spent on livelihoods (and livestock was only a part of that). In my opinion, LEGS needs to become the universally accepted standard that is applied in practice whenever livestock keepers are affected by disaster.

For further information, see the LEGS website.

Further Reading

[1] Sadler, K., Mitchard, E., Abdi, A., Shiferaw, Y., Bekele, G., & Catley, A. (2012). Milk matters: the impact of dry season livestock support on milk supply and child nutrition in Somali Region, Ethiopia.


* This is a personal blog. Any views or opinions represented in this blog belong solely to the blog owner and do not necessarily represent the views or policies of World Animal Protection.