Balakot is a small town in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan, about 60 miles north of Islamabad. Located near the quake’s epicenter, it is said to be among the worst devastated.
We visited a few small villages up in the mountains around Balakot, and everywhere we went it was the same story. The people in these areas depend on subsistence farming and their livestock for survival. A large number of the livestock has been killed, and the remaining is without any sort of shelter.
Many people too are still without tents. Some have provided makeshift shelters for their animals under cloth or plastic sheets. They urgently require proper shelter both for themselves and their livestock. Without shelter their livestock will not survive the harsh winter and many will lose their only source of income. The animals also require veterinary care to prevent malnutrition and disease outbreaks.
Although tent villages have been established in the towns, the majority are not willing to leave their land and livestock behind to move to these camps.
At this time of the year, the yearly migration of people and their animals is also taking place from the mountains to the plains. On the main road from Kaghan/Naran to Mansera, we saw many families on the move; some due to the earthquake. An average herd would consist of a few donkeys, cows, buffaloes, goats, sheep and a dog or two. Baby goats and lambs born on the move are often carried on donkey’s backs, or carried by the people in their arms. Pregnant animals get no rest, neither are they able to receive any veterinary care along the way. It is survival of the fittest for all.
At night also they are on the move in the pitch dark. Sometimes they stop by the side of the highway for a little rest. If they are near a town, they burn the discarded relief clothes by the roadside for warmth. Shepherds often collect the sweaters and shirts and put them on their goats. A lot of the goats we saw were constantly coughing. According to the shepherds, they tend to die soon after. These people too are facing a crisis as the price of their animals has fallen drastically, and they do not know how they will survive.
The international animal welfare community needs to be urgently mobilized to provide assistance to the animals in the affected areas. Apart from WSPA (wspa.org.uk) and the Brooke Hospital for Animals (www.thebrooke.org), there are no other animal welfare organizations that I am aware of who are providing disaster relief to the animals.
Food is available for both people and animals in most places. Providing shelter for all ought to be a priority at this point.
We need to take action now before the severe winter weather sets in by the end of November. Already, it has started snowing in some areas. What is needed is an urgent assessment of the affected areas, and community shelters for the livestock in villages up in the mountains. More mobile veterinary teams need to be sent out to the remote villages, and most importantly, the local Pakistani veterinary community needs to be encouraged to play their role in the disaster relief efforts.
We hope you can help in sending out alerts to the international community to take action before it’s too late.
For more information, please take a look at these websites: