SUDAN: Saving animals to save lives
MALAKAL, 5 April 2010 (IRIN) - As a region still recovering from years of brutal civil war and battling inter-ethnic clashes and food insecurity, Southern Sudan would appear to have bigger worries than animal welfare.
Photo: Peter Martell/IRIN
|Indian peacekeepers help treat a cow at a mobile vet clinic at Mayom, Unity state
But when so many people rely on animals for their survival, improving their health and tackling rising death rates is of critical importance, veterinarians say.
“People’s lives depend on animals but the services for them are very few,” said Sukhir Singh, a vet, who runs a basic but busy animal clinic in the dusty Southern Sudanese town of Malakal, capital of the underdeveloped but oil-rich Upper Nile state.
“Most cannot afford even the drugs that are available,” added Singh, a lieutenant colonel in the Indian army, which runs the animal unit as part of the UN peacekeeping mission in Sudan (UNMIS) operations.
Long lines of cows and donkeys arrive each day for free treatment. Their owners are in no doubt about the benefits of this service.
“I have two donkeys but this one is sick,” said Yahir Adam Hassan, who delivers river water in converted oil drum carts pulled by the donkeys. “I don’t have enough money to pay for treatment, so without help, I would lose my livelihood.”
Sudanese students help the Indian vets, who provide training for students and community animal health workers, who then take their skills to more remote areas.
Most patients are working animals – cows, donkeys, horses, as well as sheep and goats – but one young boy carries in his thin puppy for treatment too. A goat with a broken leg has its limb cast in plaster, while the dog gets an injection to kill internal parasites.
The clinic has treated more than 55,000 animals since 2006, with a second opening this February in Bor, the state capital of Jonglei, Singh said.
Wealth and death
Cows represent wealth and status for many people in Southern Sudan and are the source of regular raids and revenge attacks.
More than 450 people have been killed in inter-communal clashes in the South this year, after 2,500 were killed in 2009, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Southern Sudan.
Photo: Peter Martell/IRIN
|Sudanese students putting a cast on a sheep's broken leg in Malakal
Poor or badly timed rains, combined with insecurity, have also affected animal health, with organizations now boosting efforts to vaccinate cattle in an attempt to cut rising rates of infection.
“People primarily depend on livestock for their income, and the death rate among animals has been rising steadily,” the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in a 16 March statement.
“Drugs to treat sick animals are either prohibitively expensive or unavailable in the local markets,” the ICRC added, warning that many animals had not been vaccinated since 2006.
“In order to alleviate the hardship of both resident and displaced communities it has now become crucial to improve the health of their animals.”
It is working alongside Veterinarians without Borders to vaccinate 50,000 cattle before rains close roads to many areas. More than 30,000 have already been vaccinated, including in the remote and swampy Pibor county area of Jonglei state. The campaign is targeting four major cattle diseases, including pneumonia.
“The animals – mainly cows – are not only a source of food and milk but are also used for trading,” the ICRC said. “The loss of wealth makes it increasingly difficult for pastoralists to meet their families' needs.”
The few centres such as Malakal’s clinic are therefore highly valued.
When heavy fighting broke out in February 2009 between Northern and Southern soldiers in the town, nearby university buildings were badly damaged by tank and mortar shells, but the clinic was spared.
“People did not want to destroy this [the clinic],” said John Malak, who had brought his cow to be treated. “They said, ‘This is something that is for everybody’.”
Many travel long distances to reach it.
“I live across the other side of the river, so I had to bring my cow across by boat,” said Peter Augustine, a cattle herder.
The team also runs mobile clinics in more remote areas, treating more than 8,000 animals over the past year.
Outside Mayom in Unity state, the vets erect a tent, and Indian soldiers and cattlekeeping boys work together to put cows into a restraining pen for the vet to examine.
“Many have problems with worms, ticks and other parasites,” said Singh, injecting a cow to kill internal worms, one of more than 280 cows, sheep and goats treated in the two-day camp.
“It takes a little while for the message to get out that we are here,” said Singh. “But once the first animals have been treated, the news travels very quickly and many more come.”
The centre also provides training for community animal health workers, who can provide basic advice to improve livestock health across wide areas.
Radio programmes also advise to farmers on how to prevent diseases – and what to do if they think their animals are sick.