As the worst-hit areas of the East African drought are now officially declared to be in the grip of a famine, The Donkey Sanctuary is drawing public attention to the plight of donkeys in the crisis zone.
The United Nations has declared a famine in two areas of southern Somalia.
More than 166,000 desperate Somalis have fled across the borders to Kenya and Ethiopia, although large parts of both countries are also badly affected by the drought.
The Donkey Sanctuary has projects and staff in Kenya and Ethiopia, and is familiar with the effects of drought and severe food shortages on the poorest rural communities and their hard-working donkeys.
The charity’s Director of International Operations, Stephen Blakeway, has today made this statement in response to the crisis:
“At The Donkey Sanctuary we recognise that cyclic droughts are an inevitable part of life for many donkeys and the communities in which they live and work.
When rains fail and water and food become scarcer, and wells dry up, the work of donkeys starts to increase. Thirsty and hungry themselves, they have to carry increasing amounts of water and food over longer distances for people and other animals. They are often the last to be offered the water they have carried.
Drought often goes hand in hand with increasing insecurity. In some places camels and other larger working animals are lost or sold as a result of conflict, and donkeys, seen as cheaper and more quickly deployed, are enlisted instead, even when they are less well adapted to survive in extremely dry areas.
Even when drought breaks, if bullocks have died or been sold, it is often donkeys who, despite their weakened state, have then to plow the land ready for the next harvest. And because people are stressed under these conditions, they frequently forget that the donkeys too have been through a hard time, and instead of treating them gently, may beat them to make them work harder.
Some donkeys die but some somehow survive.
In all our work overseas we aim to put in place sustainable services to help donkeys and their owners. We provide training to communities and those who serve their donkeys in some way - though better harness, farriery, extension, education or veterinary services. In this way, when drought comes along, the communities are as informed and prepared as possible.
To be most effective, The Donkey Sanctuary recognises the need to work in collaboration with a range of other organisations including those involved in humanitarian and water resource development. We are part of the WSPA Disaster Alliance which alerts animal welfare charities to the condition of animals after disasters and in some cases organises appropriate interventions. We are engaged with the Livestock Emergency Guidelines and Standards initiative, now a companion module to the Sphere handbook on best practice in the face of emergencies for humanitarian agencies, and are lobbying them to give greater recognition to the role of working animals specifically and the need to consider the welfare of animals generally.
Options in the face of a drought are limited but we look out for opportunities to help in small but sensible ways, helping donkeys and communities to survive better.
In the case of the current drought, we are working with an organisation based in Marsabit in north-east Kenya to find practical ways to bring some relief and assistance to donkeys and their owners, in the face of this difficult situation. We hope we will learn lessons that we can use in similar crisis situations in the future.”