Following Prime Minister David Cameron’s interview on Radio 4’s Today programme on Tuesday 27th July 2010, international animal charity The Donkey Sanctuary has welcomed the attention that he is drawing to the issues of poverty in India and the need to maintain levels of support. The charity has been providing support to donkey owners in some of the poorest areas of India for the last 12 years.
Mr Cameron raised awareness of the fact that there are more people living in poverty in eight states of India than in the 26 countries of sub-Saharan Africa1 in spite of the fact that the country has enjoyed an economic boom in recent years. He stressed the importance of continuing to provide aid and ensuring that this support is focused on the areas that are most in need.
The UK-based Donkey Sanctuary has been working in India since 1998 and has seen huge changes in the needs of those living in the poorest areas. The economic growth of the country has led to a boom in construction which is largely undertaken by people living below the poverty line and ‘powered’ by donkeys. Unlike the mechanised building sites in the Western world, Indian industrial development zones often rely on human and animal labourers. The large high-rise office blocks, factories and hotels are built by families who migrate from their villages to live in makeshift camps and work in the brick kilns and building sites, relying on their donkeys to earn a minimal living.
Their donkeys are used to transport heavy loads of bricks and building materials, which are often slung across their backs with inadequate or wrongly-positioned padding.
Stephen Blakeway, director of international operations for The Donkey Sanctuary, says: “Mr Cameron’s interview on the Today programme highlighted the poverty that is still affecting millions of people and their animals in India. Through our veterinary, training and education programmes, we are able to support donkey owners to improve the welfare of their animals. Healthier animals with better harness can work more efficiently, and this in turn leads to improved conditions for the family as a whole. We hope that Mr Cameron’s words will encourage UK companies who invest in India to be aware of the working conditions of the people and animals who literally do the donkey work, and to make ethical choices in the way they choose to operate.”
The Donkey Sanctuary’s work in India brings teams into regular contact with these communities. The charity’s mobile units visit the brick kilns and building sites, giving free veterinary treatments to the donkeys, improving harnesses and advising their owners on how to keep their animals as strong and healthy as possible. Vets from the mobile units also work to train local vets and identify how the donkey owners can make the best use of other animal health services. The charity also communicates with brick kiln owners to encourage better working practices for both people and animals.
As well as promoting donkey welfare, our education and community development officers are sometimes able to link the workers to other local NGOs who can help them, and to Government aid programmes from which they can claim benefits.