Anwar had three cows and five goats and despite the heavy flooding in Kurigram, he was determined to not leave their side. Instead, he opted to stay in neck-deep water for two days, almost on the verge of dying due to hypothermia – but he would not move an inch since no one was willing to take his animals along when they came to rescue him. Anwar stayed put until someone took his animals to safety.
Anwar’s story is not unheard of. It might seem absurd at first, but when your livelihood depends on the creatures you coexist with, and your life savings have gone into rearing them, not to mention the toil and nurturing – it's almost impossible to let go.
For this reason, the animal welfare organisation Obhoyaronno has been focusing on an important but often overlooked aspect of the recent flooding in Bangladesh – providing relief to the animals affected by it. This week, we talk to Rubaiya Ahmad to find out more about this unusual initiative.
Why did you start this initiative?
Most of the people in the flood-affected region, especially those living in char areas, depend on their animals for their livelihood. Many of them lost their animals, and thus their livelihoods, during the floods. But the ones who didn’t lose their animals went through tremendous difficulties to get them to safety. A lot of the people were ready to drown with their animals because they knew that they would have nothing to come back to if they left them to die.
The grass that these animals feed on also went underwater during the floods, making it inedible. People are always sent dry food like rice as relief, but this can't be used for livestock, and the farmers were in agony – they have saved their animals, only to see them starve. We even came across people who asked us to give food for their animals and not them, because they can survive with eating once a day but the animals need to be in good health to provide milk and eggs.
How much did you provide?
We went back with ten tonnes of feed. A large cow needs around 16 kilograms of feed per month. The grass they usually eat will require a month to grow. So we made the calculation that if a small village had 500 animals, and if we can arrange feed for them, we would be essentially saving the livelihoods of all the families in that village.
What reactions were you greeted with?
They were all over the moon when we reached with the feed. People lined up for miles to get the feed but of course, it’s never enough. The resources that we mobilised was through personal contacts – our friends and family literally raised the amount within a week. Quality Feeds Limited was very generous and donated one tonne, while we bought nine more. They also delivered the feed to all the way to Kurigram where we had local volunteers to help with distribution.
What needs to be changed?
This is such a burning need and it is appalling that no government or NGO had thought to do this before. If you are thinking about helping people, there are plenty of ways in which you can do so, not just through providing food. You need to think about long-term sustainablity and their livelihoods. We have started lobbying with the government as well as NGOs to prepare for such similar situations in the future.
Do you wish to continue the initiative?
Obhoyaronno advocates for preparedness and making sure that there are enough resources for animals. We can’t think that only the eccentric andsoft-hearted are responsible for the state of animal welfare in our society. A cow or a goat is as much of an animal as a cat or a dog - we can’t segregate them. It is important that we start viewing animal welfare the same way we see human welfare because the two are intimately connected.
We want to focus all our energy on advocacy because when I went to Kurigram, I understood how gargantuan the task is. We don’t have enough resources and a dependable network to do this on our own. Our appeal is to the government and relevant NGOs to include this in their agenda for next year.