August 15, 2008


 Agricultural animals helped families recover from tsunami

The AVMA teamed with Heifer International to contribute to projects in four countries 
Posted Aug. 1, 2008

Water buffalo
A water buffalo finds a source of water amidst the destruction in Indonesia following
the 2004 tsunami.

Editor's note: Dr. Terry Wollen, director of animal well-being for Heifer International, spoke at the AVMA Convention about "Agriculture/Capacity Building: Livestock Development After the Tsunami, AVMA/Heifer International Programs." Here he summarizes his remarks.

At about 7 a.m. Dec. 26, 2004, a magnitude 9 undersea earthquake off the coast of Indonesia caused a vertical lift that displaced ocean water, triggering tsunami waves to the east and west. The tsunami was not noticeable from the surface until the waves approached land. The waves, moving at about 300 mph, slowed near land and grew as high as two stories. The catastrophic force of the waves struck without warning.

In Indonesia, more than 170,000 people died or went missing—and the tsunami displaced upward of half a million people. In India, across the ocean, more than 17,000 people died or went missing. Thailand lost 9,000 people to the tsunami, and Sri Lanka lost more than 35,000 people.

Quantifying losses of agricultural animals was difficult because no good tallies existed before the tsunami. Certainly, any animal in the area where the waves struck was in peril and probably died. Agricultural animals that survived the waves were in danger during the following days not only because the tsunami disrupted care from their owners but also because seawater contaminated feed, forage, and fresh water.

In January 2005, the AVMA Executive Board decided to help with international recovery efforts. Dr. Bruce W. Little, then AVMA executive vice president, was familiar with Heifer International's 60 years of work with communities around the world to end hunger and poverty by providing agricultural animals and training. Dr. Bonnie V. Beaver, then AVMA president, wrote a letter to AVMA members explaining an initiative to solicit donations for Heifer International from members, industry partners, and the public. The AVMA would provide matching funds of up to $500,000, starting with a challenge match of $100,000.

Less than six months later, the AVMA campaign reached the goal of $1 million. Heifer provided an additional $1 million for tsunami-relief projects in four areas where the organization has programs: the Andaman Sea coast of Thailand, the territory of Aceh in Indonesia, the Bay of Bengal coast of India, and the eastern shores of Sri Lanka.

Restoring livelihoods

Heifer International believes effective community development results from participation of the people and local ownership of the decision-making processes. Community members commit their own resources, so the outcome is theirs. Others can facilitate growth and change, but the local people do the work. Effective development is a process over time, not a series of individual projects.

The Heifer tsunami-relief program in Thailand was slow to develop partly because the waves struck tourist areas. Plenty of money and relief went to families near the most visible resort areas, leaving more remote fishing villages with less attention.

Heifer needed time to form effective groups and establish the self-help concept in the Thai fishing villages. The Heifer program helped supply fishing boats so villagers could return to their traditional income-generating activity. The program provided rabbits, goats, and cattle as traditional and useful agricultural animals. Heifer also supplied mangrove trees to restore natural estuaries, which are often the first line of defense against coastal erosion.

Animal health worker
Heifer International, Cooperative Outreach
of India, and the Coastal Peoples Development
Association have provided veterinary kits to
village animal health workers.

The tsunami in Sri Lanka may have been the worst disaster that the island has ever experienced. Heifer's partner there is the Sri Lanka Center for Development Facilitation. Heifer projects have provided families with water buffalo for dairy farming, tree saplings, and seeds to grow fodder and vegetables. Manure from the livestock has been valuable as a source of fertilizer.

The tsunami struck Indonesia at its northernmost point, in the territory of Aceh. The devastation was massive, and the region did not have the resources to handle the recovery alone. The disaster helped prompt a peace agreement between the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement, which had closed the territory to outsiders.

The unique political situation of Aceh was another magnet for international aid. For Heifer, a major challenge was that program participants were less willing to share resources with other needy families because of cash-for-work programs that international nongovernmental organizations implemented during the immediate relief efforts.

Heifer's projects in Aceh have focused on providing families with cattle, goats, materials for kitchen gardens, fish, fishing equipment, boats, mud crabs, ducks, chickens, mangrove trees, and microcredit. Another project has trained some of the local farmers in health and husbandry practices so they can deliver services to their communities. Volunteers who complete the classes receive a kit with equipment and medicine.

Heifer's work in India is along the Bay of Bengal coast of the southern provinces. Heifer's local partner is the Society for Education, Village Action, and Improvement. According to SEVAI, families went through emotional stages when they lost their homes and livelihoods—a horror phase, a phase of neighborhood solidarity, a phase of gratitude for relief donations, a phase of frustration and anger while living in shelters with no income and an uncertain future, and a normalcy phase as a new order to life emerged.

As normalcy returned, local NGOs in southern India helped establish Heifer projects. Goats are an important project animal because they are small and docile, provide milk and meat, require a low initial investment, and can survive on existing shrubs and trees. Families also received hardy local varieties of chickens to supply eggs and meat. 

Global village

The human-animal bond is alive around the world. Women who have worked with Heifer speak with enthusiasm about their animals. Heifer's tsunami-relief projects are not without difficulties, though. Avian influenza has been a problem in India and makes use of poultry much more difficult. A universal problem is slow fodder production where seawater soaked the soil.

Heifer International would like to thank the members of the AVMA and Executive Board, once again, for taking on this campaign. Tremendous good came from the AVMA focus on an area devastated by natural disaster—not only in the provision of animal assets but also in the development of communities of people who are now feeding themselves, providing income for their families and communities, and learning new ways to care for their part of this Earth.