December 01, 2010


 In the wake of the tsunami

Heifer International wrapping up recovery projects that received AVMA backing

By Katie Burns 
Posted Nov. 18, 2010

On Dec. 26, 2004, an earthquake in the Indian Ocean created a tsunami that took the lives of thousands upon thousands of people in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, and neighboring countries. The disaster destroyed the livelihoods of many thousands more.

The AVMA partnered with Heifer International to help the region rebuild via gifts of agricultural animals, the basis of Heifer's approach to alleviating hunger and poverty. The AVMA raised $500,000 in donations and provided a matching grant of $500,000, while Heifer provided $1 million. The total of $2 million allowed Heifer to establish tsunami recovery projects in four countries. 


(Click to view larger image)


In India, many families received goats through the tsunami recovery projects. Here,
a family passes one of the goats' offspring to another family.

Nearly six years later, the projects are coming to their conclusion. Heifer gave animals and other resources to about 2,170 families in India, 1,500 in Indonesia, 860 in Sri Lanka, and 360 in Thailand. Each family passed the animals' first female offspring to another family, a process that is part of the Heifer approach.

"We can help people when we find ways to have them help themselves," said Dr. Terry S. Wollen, interim vice president of advocacy for Heifer. "We simply provide encouragement, transformation processes, empowerment, some resources, but then the people take that and move on for themselves. And that's the essence of true, long-lasting, sustainable development." 

Tsunami recovery in India

Of major countries that the tsunami affected, Dr. Wollen said, India probably had the longest stretch of coastal destruction. When he visited India months after the disaster, he saw villages that the water had nearly wiped out.


The tsunami recovery projects also provided chickens to many
families in India.
In Indonesia, the tsunami destroyed roads as well as villages.

Heifer worked with three local organizations in southern India on recovery projects to assist families that the tsunami affected directly or indirectly, said Prabaharan Rajarathinam, Heifer India program manager.

As with all Heifer projects, Rajarathinam said, the first step was the formation of community self-help groups, with each group consisting of about 20 to 25 families. Members of these groups assessed community needs, started group savings programs, completed training in animal management, and built animal housing.

Before receiving animals and other resources, Rajarathinam said, families signed contracts promising to pass the gifts on to other families after some period of time. Then Heifer distributed about 5,110 goats, 11,000 chickens, 130 sheep, and seeds to grow vegetables.

Rajarathinam gave an example of one woman who made the most of the vegetable seeds and four goats that she received. After passing on some of the goats' offspring and selling others, the woman still has 16 goats and a thriving vegetable garden, which help her feed her children and generate income.

"The program is improving the people's lives, economical status," Rajarathinam said.

Heifer also trained community animal health workers to provide basic veterinary care. Some goats still died of illness, Rajarathinam said, but Heifer had taken out insurance that paid claims for the animals.

The group savings programs have been beneficial in various ways, Rajarathinam said. The savings allow groups to buy fodder in bulk for resale at a low price to members. The groups also can offer low-interest loans to members for expenditures such as student fees and medical bills. 

Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand

Along with the program in India, Heifer established tsunami recovery projects and accompanying community groups in three other countries—Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. 

The tsunami hit Indonesia hardest in the province of Aceh, Dr. Wollen said. Heifer's recovery project in Aceh supplied 25,200 chickens, 1,390 goats, 660 swine, and 200 cattle, plus 180,000 fish for aquaculture. Heifer also distributed 200,000 mangrove trees to reduce erosion of the coastline.

On the island of Sri Lanka, Dr. Wollen said, Heifer distributed 40 fishing boats and other fishing equipment to help restore local livelihoods. Families also received 20,000 chickens, 510 cattle, 160 goats, and vegetable seeds.

The smallest of Heifer's tsunami recovery projects was in Thailand. Dr. Wollen explained that the tsunami struck Thailand in tourist areas, which subsequently received substantial international aid. Heifer supplied 20 fishing boats, 120 rabbits, 90 goats, and 30,000 mangrove trees.

Dr. Dilip P. Bhandari, Heifer's Asia/South Pacific program officer, said the tsunami recovery projects overall provided training for more than 100 participants to become community animal health workers.

"In most countries of Asia, veterinary doctors are not available in our communities, so we have developed a community-based animal health care program," Dr. Bhandari said. "That program is really very effective."

The animal health workers receive initial veterinary supplies, Dr. Bhandari said, and Heifer links them with any governmental veterinary or animal health programs that might be available. Some countries offer grants for veterinary supplies. The animal health workers also can buy supplies and then sell medicine when they provide services.

Dr. Bhandari plans to share more details about the tsunami recovery projects in a July 18 session at the 2011 AVMA Annual Convention in St. Louis. 

AVMA role

Dr. Roger K. Mahr, chief executive officer of the One Health Commission, was chair of the AVMA Executive Board when the board approved backing the tsunami recovery projects. 

The AVMA assumed a leadership role following the disaster in keeping with its mission to improve animal and human health, Dr. Mahr said. The AVMA tapped available reserves and solicited additional donations from the membership, the general public, and industry partners to help Heifer establish recovery projects.

"Through the use of these resources, healthy animal agriculture production within the affected regions was established, and improved health and well-being of many people have been achieved," Dr. Mahr said. "It is most heartening to see the meaningful impact upon the lives of people and animals resulting from these efforts, particularly the ongoing sustainability."

Dr. Mahr said the tsunami recovery projects are an example of the kind of collaboration among institutions and disciplines that can address future global challenges to human, animal, and ecosystem health.