Understanding Disaster and Role of Veterinarian in its Management

PC: freakingnews


In recent years, we have witnessed a number of major disasters in and around India which have caused untold miseries and havoc to human as well as animal life and property. India has been vulnerable to many natural disasters on account of its unique geo-climatic conditions. Floods, droughts, cyclones, tsunami, earthquakes and landslides have been recurrent phenomena in India. Although in disaster the major objective is to safe guard human lives, but one must think about animals as they are also severely affected. The aim of the article is to review the role of veterinarian in disaster involving livestock sector, challenges with respect to Indian sub-continent and how to address these challenges.


The impact of Indian Ocean tsunami, Kashmir earthquake, Sichuan earthquake and Nargis Cyclone are still being felt by the affected communities. India is vulnerable to various natural disasters viz. floods, droughts, cyclones, tsunami, earthquakes and landslides. About 60% of the landmass is prone to earthquakes of various intensities; over 40 million hectares to floods; about 8% of the total area to cyclones and 68% of the area is susceptible to drought (GOI, 2004).

According to an estimate by the World Bank, direct losses from natural disaster are up to 2% of Indian Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (Kumar, 2012). Whereas according to the World Disaster Report 2010, during the period from 2000-2009, as many as 85% of people affected by disaster belonged to the Asia Pacific region. More than 90% of global population exposed to flood lives in south Asia, East Asian and Pacific countries (UNISDR, 2001).


The World Health Organization (WHO) defines disaster as ‘any occurrence that causes damage, economic destruction, loss of human life and deterioration in health and health services on a scale sufficient to warrant an extraordinary response from outside the affected community or area’ (Kumar, 1998).

Disaster Management Act 2005, defines disaster as “A catastrophe, mishap, calamity or grave occurrence in any area, arising from natural or man-made causes, or by accident or negligence which results in substantial loss of life or human suffering or damage to, and destruction of property, or damage to, and degradation of environment and is of such a nature or magnitude as to be beyond the coping capacity of the community of the affected area” (HPC, 2002).

Types of Disasters

Broadly disasters can be categorized, as natural disasters, which result from natural phenomena, or manmade disasters, that result from man’s intervention or non-intervention. Further, both natural and manmade disasters can be sub-categorized as major and minor.

Natural disasters

  • Major natural disasters: flood, cyclone, drought, earthquake and tsunami etc.

  • Minor natural disasters: cold wave, thunderstorms, heat waves, mud slides and storm etc.

Manmade disaster

  • Major manmade disasters: setting of fires, epidemic, deforestation, pollution due to prawn cultivation, chemical pollution and wars etc.

  • Minor manmade disasters: Road/ train accidents, riots, food poisoning, industrial disaster/ crisis and environmental pollution etc.

A High Powered Committee in 2001 (HPC) identified a total of 31 disasters in India and categorized them into five major groups.

  1. Water and climate related disasters: Floods and drainage management, cyclones, tornadoes and hurricanes, hailstorm, cloud burst, heat wave and cold wave, snow avalanche, droughts, sea erosion, thunder and lightning etc.

  2. Geologically related disasters: Landslides and mudflows, earthquakes, dam failures/ dam bursts and mine fires etc.

  3. Chemical, industrial and nuclear related disasters: Chemical disasters due to accidental leakage of chemical, gas or any other toxic substance and leakage of nuclear radiation/ substance from nuclear power plant etc.

  4. Accident related disasters: Forest fires, urban fires, mine flooding, oil spill, major building collapse, serial bomb blasts, festival related disasters, electrical disasters, fires, air, road and rail accidents, boat capsizing and village fire etc.

  5. Biologically related disasters: Biological disasters and epidemics, pest attacks, cattle epidemics and food poisoning.

Disaster involving livestock

The two major disasters related to animals are epizootics and geophysical events (Heath, 1999; FAO, 1991). Epizootic diseases have killed large populations of animals and have reduced the production efficiency of many animals. Numerous geophysical disasters also affect livestock population and agriculture every year and cause considerable loss of animal life and spoilage of processed foods for humans and animals (Tremblay and Martineau, 1994; Cassina et al., 1992).

Although in disaster the major objective is to safe guard human lives, but one must think about animals as they are also severely affected. Generally, disaster affect animal by one of the following reasons: due to shortage of feed and fodder; spoilage of food and water supply; zoonoses; animal bites; damage to both domestic and wild animal species, lack of space and the diseases which spread during and after a disaster (Sen and Chander, 2003).

Animal displacement commonly occurs during periods of disaster. These displaced domesticated and wild animals, rats; insects, snakes, and reptiles often result in an increased incidence of bites to animals and human. Diseases transmitted by rodents, vectors and other animals may increase during heavy rainfall and flooding because of altered patterns of contact (Diaz, 2007). Finally, diseases among sick animals (contagious diseases) may spread to other animals and even to the human population (zoonosis), such as rabies, tuberculosis, and avian influenza.

Disaster preparedness and response in livestock

Disaster preparedness is important for all animals, but it is particularly important for livestock because of the animals' size and their shelter and transportation needs. Disasters can happen anywhere and can take many different forms, from barn fires to hazardous materials spills to propane line explosions, and train derailments all of which may necessitate evacuation. It is imperative that you be prepared to protect your livestock, whether by evacuating or by sheltering in place. Following steps can be taken to ensure the disaster preparedness and to minimize the disaster losses by making a disaster plan to protect your property, facilities and animals.

  • Create a list of emergency telephone numbers, including those of your employees, neighbors, state veterinarian, poison control, local animal shelter, animal care and control, county extension service, local agricultural schools, trailering resources, and local volunteers.

  • If evacuation is not possible, a decision must be made whether to confine large animals to an available shelter on your farm or leave them out in pastures. Owners may believe that their animals are safer inside barns, but in many circumstances, confinement takes away the animals' ability to protect them. This decision should be based on the type of disaster and the soundness and location of the sheltering building.

  • The leading causes of death of large animals in hurricanes, storm, floods and similar events are collapsed barns, dehydration, electrocution, and accidents resulting from fencing failure.

  • If you own farm animals, you should take precautions to protect them from these hazards, no matter what the disaster potential for your area and evacuate animals as soon as possible.

  • Be ready to leave once the evacuation is ordered by local authorities.

  • Arrange for a place to shelter your animals.

  • Plan ahead and work within your community to establish safe shelters for farm animals.

  • Potential facilities include fairgrounds, other farms, racetracks, humane societies, convention centers, and any other safe and appropriate facilities you can find.

  • Survey your community and potential host communities along your planned evacuation route.

  • Make a disaster kit so you have supplies on hand in the event of a disaster.

  • Place the kit in a central location and let everyone know where it is.

  • Check the contents regularly to ensure fresh and complete supplies.

  • Disaster kit must contain current list of all animals, including their location and records of feeding, vaccinations, and tests and basic first aid kit including handling equipment such as halters, cages appropriate for each kind of animal and other safety and emergency items for your vehicles and trailers.

Feeding and nutritional aspects during disaster

In the calamities, there are acute shortage of feed, fodder and drinking water for livestock. Saving of animal’s life is considered on priority basis. The Feeding strategies can be developed with two major objectives:

  • To feed animals for maintenance that ensures survival of animals.

  • To feed productive stock, such as pregnant and lactating cows preferentially.

It is useful to produce complete feed for use during calamities. Biologically complete feeds with appropriate balances of roughage and concentrates may lead to better utilization of locally available crop residues agricultural by-products and waste. The transport of complete feed is easy and low in cost. Animals maintained on malnutrition condition for prolonged period are supposed to suffer from different diseases and immunity of animals goes down. So immediately, when the scarcity period is over, animals should be adequately fed taking care of supplementation of different minerals and vitamins.

Role of veterinarians in disaster

Veterinarians have been pioneers to animal health throughout the globe and are responsible for the eradication of many diseases from many regions and countries (PAHO, 1982). Veterinarians have also responded to the needs of countries affected by geophysical disasters on many occasions (FAO, 1991).

Veterinarians are in unique position to strengthen the countries surveillance and disaster management system, due to their ideal position in society, easy access to the animal owners, their knowledge and training. Last but not the least their role in the human animal bond is also to be noted. These professional competencies are essential for identification and management of disaster involving human and animal health. Appropriate surveillance, clinical curiosity, epidemiological studies and disaster training are the essential tools that veterinarians must use to meet the challenges of any disaster. Thus, we and our colleagues greatly enhanced the ability to rapid implementation of disaster management programme and work together to improve the animal health status of our communities by:

  • Notifying any suspected or confirmed case or outbreak involving a disease of public health importance during or after disaster.

  • Cooperate with administrative and public health authorities during surveillance.

  • Implementing control measures including isolation and quarantine of animals as per the recommendation of authorities.

  • Collection of data from animal owners, zoo, and wildlife parks, dispensaries, private clinics and dispersing them to the concerned and needful authorities.

  • Educating and counseling of animal owners regarding the zoonotic aspect of the disease, their control, diagnosis, prophylactic measures and treatment etc.

  • Encouraging clients for micro chipping, tagging and tattooing for permanent identification.

  • Providing copies of medical and vaccination records to clients.

  • Informing clients of resources that provide information on family preparedness and developing an emergency kit for human and animals.

  • Encouraging clients to keep collars or harnesses with identification on all pets

  • Encouraging farm clients to establish a “sister” farm that can help transport and/or accommodate their livestock in a disaster.

  • Offer guidance on the most appropriate place on the farm to house the animals during a flood, barn fire, or blizzard.

  • Participate as volunteer with local disaster response team or a regional-level animal disaster team as a veterinary resource.


The evolving sphere of disaster management is offering the veterinarians an opportunity to take a leading role in animal welfare during disasters. To systematically implementing the full range of activities righty from preparedness, response prevention, and recovery from the disasters, veterinarian should steer their work. As vets, we are in a position to understand the issues surrounding disease epidemiology, nutritional and behavioral aspects of animal management, as well as husbandry methods for better productivity and viability of livestock during disaster management.


1,2, Scientist, Division of Medicine, ICAR-Indian Veterinary Research Institute, Izatnagar, Bareilly-243 122 (UP)