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A woman and her donkeys transporting charcoal to sell in a market outside of Narok town in Massai Mara, Kenya. A woman and her donkeys transporting charcoal to sell in a market outside of Narok town in Massai Mara, Kenya. Photo credit: The Brooke/Freya Dowson

Donkey welfare: what’s that got to do with humanitarian and relief work?

by Elizabeth Coates
17 November 2016

In fact, quite a lot. For many people in poor communities around the world, working horses, donkeys and mules are crucial to their survival, and yet the contributions of these animals are frequently overlooked, both in programmes aiming to build community resilience and in emergency relief.

Mme Hadjiratou Sow lives in the Ferlo, a semi-arid area in the north of Senegal, where Brooke funded a small emergency drought response in 2015. She said afterwards that without the relief project ‘all these donkeys would be dead by now, even their owners. Because if your donkey dies, it means death for you as well’. In her words there is a long-overlooked truth: working horses, donkeys and mules play a major role in the livelihoods of poor communities. In Senegal, these animals contribute to their owners’ livelihoods in many ways: they support income-generating activities, such as taxi services, transporting construction materials and rubbish collection; they contribute to household tasks and social events, for example by collecting firewood and water; and doing school runs, acting as ambulances and taking families to celebrations. They plough and harvest fields, and move produce and livestock to and from markets. They are also sources of savings. Despite their vital importance to the survival of poor communities, livestock emergency feeding programmes rarely include working equines. As a result, these animals die or become weak as a result of starvation just as families need them most.

In the Sahel, climate change, desertification and food insecurity are everyday realities. Communities most affected by slow-onset emergencies are often amongst the poorest. They are also often communities for whom donkeys in particular are essential for survival. If these communities are vulnerable to disaster, their dependent animals are also vulnerable. Strengthening community resilience to manage dry, hungry seasons is thus just as important for horses, donkeys and mules as for humans.

So at Brooke we advocate for:

  • Inclusion of working equines within international, regional and national policy definitions of livestock.
  • Inclusion of working equines in livelihoods programming focusing on livestock.
  • Appropriate investment to ensure access to suitable veterinary and extension services for animal owners.
  • Technical capacity-building to ensure the implementation at the national level of global policies such as the OIE Standards for the Welfare of Working Equids.
  • Inclusion of working equines in research methodologies determining levels of food security vulnerability and household assets (e.g. household economy studies).
  • Increased visibility of working equines in sectoral value chain analysis, in order to highlight their role in market systems.
  • Attention to the specific needs of working equines (which often differ from ruminant animals) in disaster risk reduction and emergency response planning, including in the Livestock Emergency Guidelines.

Working equines will benefit if humanitarian and government agencies include equine welfare in resilience and emergency response programming – and so too will the communities whose livelihoods depend on the contributions of working equines. As Mme Sow put it, ‘if your donkey dies it means death for you as well’.

Elizabeth Coates is formerly Regional Representative for Brooke West Africa (@TheBrooke).

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