Nature today | The next disaster is coming. Are we prepared for it?

Last year, many wild animals had to flee from the forest fires in south-west France. Animals like the Greek tortoise. Unfortunately, these turtles are not fast enough to escape the fire. Hundreds of these protected turtles died in the fires. Several years ago, the EU started providing support to protect the Greek tortoise. But no one had ever thought about how to protect them during a forest fire – even though they are common in their habitat.

Forest fires, floods and droughts are becoming more frequent and severe in Europe. It is high time that we start including animals better in our emergency plans. As IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare), we know that good preparation can save lives for both people and animals. In addition, it also costs less money.

By planning ahead, we can protect wildlife from habitat and food loss, disease and mass death during and after disasters. In addition, we prevent injured animals, or animals looking for food or a safe place, from coming into contact with people after a disaster. Then there may be a risk of the spread of zoonoses or contamination of drinking water.

Include all animals in emergency plans

Not only wild animals, but also companion animals benefit from better disaster preparedness. By including pets in evacuation plans, we can also protect many people who refuse to flee without their pets or who return to dangerous areas to care for their pets. Such behavior endangers animals and people: both animal owners and rescuers who help them.

Many pet owners, especially in high-risk areas, often recognize the importance of having a plan in place in case of an emergency. They take the necessary precautions, such as preparing an emergency plan, having key identification ready for their animals and preparing an evacuation bag for their pets. In Europe, we need to scale up these individual measures into a functional system at all levels of government.

Persuading governments to include animals in existing emergency plans is not easy. We understand that countries are reluctant to commit resources to disaster preparedness. But at the same time, we know that this investment will save a lot of costs in the next disaster. Disasters also affect the economy, and like it or not, animals are economic resources. A study of the impact of the 2012 floods in India found that every dollar spent on early-stage animal rescue resulted in $96 in livestock productivity.

Measures and disaster preparedness

IFAW’s goal is to raise awareness of the importance of being prepared for disasters and emergencies in order to reduce the risk to both animals and people. It comes down to a number of choices that can cause or avoid negative outcomes. We recently published a report outlining the key actions European policymakers need to take to properly respond to disasters:

  1. Expand our knowledge of animal needs in emergency situations and improve our skills to meet those needs
  2. Allocation of resources for animal welfare during humanitarian disasters, both inside and outside the EU
  3. Better communicate the importance of protecting animals that depend on people and people that depend on their animals
  4. Make sure it is clear who is responsible for animal welfare in emergency situations
  5. Including animal welfare in emergency plans
  6. Assign livestock and municipal emergency planners for better emergency plans

To keep the focus on disaster preparedness, IFAW has proclaimed October as Disaster Preparedness Month in Europe, as October 13 is also the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction.

Disasters are becoming more frequent and causing more and more damage. But we also see that there is more and more attention to disaster preparedness. People understand that now we have to think about the animals. Before it is too late. Now is the time to include animals in emergency plans so we are prepared for the next disaster. We must set up and test systems before disaster strikes.

Celine Sissler-Bienvenu, IFAW
Photos: Béatrice Senequier (main photo: forest fires in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, France); SYMPTOM

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