The day has started as normal, household chores, children to school and then something odd happens... you notice the door opens, the windows rattle and suddenly, the ground shakes - your worst fear is confirmed, an earthquake is under way.
For many of us, this is an experience we'll never have to face, but for those in Nepal, one year ago, it was very real. News of the earthquake quickly spread despite all the communication difficulties. The worst hit areas were identified and teams were activated to rescue people.
When we saw the news in our Brooke office, our first thoughts were for the local teams and their families, but fortunately all were OK. However concern then turned to our areas of work, and I was horrified to hear that Gorkha, a key project area with many working donkeys and mules, had been close to the epicentre.
It was impossible to contact the people there, so our local partner organisation AHTCS, sent a small team to evaluate the damage and needs. Travelling by foot across the hills, they found an area devastated by earth movement and landslides. Sadly some animals had been killed whilst working, with packs still strapped to their backs and when they reached the people the situation was dire. Homes were destroyed and families were cut off from the rest of the world, there was so much we needed to do.
On their return to the town, our local team organised feed and medical supplies for the equine animals, and provisions for the people, which they were able to distribute. With our financial support, extra people were hired to build a temporary track and rescue some 150 animals trapped in the hills, so they could go back to their homes and be properly cared for. The Brooke partner team provided emergency medical care and set up a camp where they stayed for 5 days, treating any animals that needed help. During the days that followed the earthquake, more than 400 animals were rescued, 1,500 animals were treated and more than 300 people were provided with emergency supplies.
Some of the working equines we rescued were used to carry relief materials to the remote northern areas, becoming a vital lifeline for people where access was so limited for motor vehicles. Without the work of our local team, the situation could have been so much worse, we are eternally grateful for their bravery working in such difficult conditions, whilst continuing to worry about their own families and the constant threat of aftershocks - sincerely, thank you.
But the earthquake in Nepal is just one emergency we've had to deal with in the last year. Terrible drought in Ethiopia has taken the lives of thousands of animals, many more have suffered from disease and malnutrition due to the water shortages caused by El Niño weather patterns. Working equine animals are often overlooked in any relief programme, despite their vital role in sustaining other livestock through transportation of feed, fodder and water, plus supporting families in life saving provision of clean water from bore holes often many kilometres from the homestead. But the Brooke has been there, providing emergency relief in the form of access to feed and water. Furthermore, the teams have been clearing and restoring several ponds, where water can be collected and stored when the rains come, to provide a level of resilience against future drought.
So often the working equine animals are forgotten when it comes to emergency interventions, we see that time and time again, and yet they are vital to the relief efforts in many ways. In Senegal, when we were responding to the drought affecting the northern Ferlo region, one donkey owner was quoted as saying "when my donkey dies, I die". They are an integrated part of people's lives and when disasters strike, their existence can be a life saver for others, sometimes even providing the water or the emergency food parcels being distributed by local governments and other international relief efforts.
Thanks to the Brooke's emergency work on the ground and with local teams, we are saving the lives of many animals, who can go on to save the lives of people. We are sharing our experiences with local governments, so they can ensure relief efforts include working animals. Please share our stories too, so that more and more people working in disaster situations, remember to consider the role and needs of the working horses, donkeys and mules - they are part of the solution in any relief effort and must not be ignored.