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January 21, 2010

From Tsunami to Earthquakes: HSI Disaster Response

Humane Society International

  • HSI giving aid after the 2009 Philippines typhoons. © HSI

  • In Haiti, giving a shot to a dog. Kathy Milani/© HSI

  • Helping a distressed bird following the earthquake in Chile. © HSI

As Humane Society International (HSI) veterinary field responders begin their work in Haiti, a nation reeling from the shattering strike of the January 12 earthquake, they will face innumerable challenges. But they will be extending a legacy of relief efforts that has seen HSI personnel take meaningful action to help animals in more than one dozen nations in the last few years. From the powerful tsunami that walloped the Indian Ocean nations in late 2004 to the terrible typhoons that slammed the Philippines just last fall, HSI has stepped in to provide crucial, lifesaving services, helping thousands of animals through direct animal care and leadership on the ground.

Moreover, in virtually all of these situations, HSI has built lasting relationships with local partners, turning the tragedies of disaster into the triumphs of recovery and reconstruction. From its contributions to the repair and rebuilding of essential infrastructure, to its involvement with ongoing spaying and neutering clinics and humane education, HSI's legacy of response has also been a legacy of long range benefit to animals in areas overwhelmed by disaster.

First in, fully engaged: the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004

A high point in HSI's history of international relief activities came with its response to the massive tsunami that pushed a colossal wall of water across the Indian Ocean, causing devastation in Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and India in December 2004, after a 9.0 earthquake struck the ocean floor. The first international animal welfare organization on the ground after the tsunami, HSI immediately launched efforts to stabilize the welfare of animals in the affected areas, and to arrange for other emergency assistance. In the months following the tsunami, HSI teams worked with local institutions and other animal protection groups to provide assessment, relief, and veterinary care for the countless animal victims in Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia. HSI played a central role in the reconstruction of the veterinary teaching farm at the University of Syiah Kuala in Banda Aceh, Sumatra, and its introduction of WSPA's animal welfare curriculum.

Answering the call: earthquakes, floods, landslides, monsoons, cyclones, and eruptions

On the heels of its tsunami relief work, HSI mounted a robust response in October 2005 when an earthquake struck in India and Pakistan, joining with other organizations to provide veterinary care and related services for working equines and livestock affected by the disaster. Just one month later, HSI again stood in the gap, when tropical storms triggered floods in southern India, helping to coordinate animal disaster relief with local and international partners.

HSI has also responded on multiple occasions in the Western hemisphere when animals were threatened by disaster. In autumn 2007, the Mexican state of Tabasco experienced severe flooding that left 80 percent of the state underwater while, further south, heavy flooding and landslides also plagued the state of Chiapas. HSI collaborated with international agencies, local groups and regional officials to bring food, supplies and medical attention to animals throughout the devastated regions. Teams of veterinarians and emergency specialists fed and treated hundreds of animals, including dogs and cats, horses, cattle, pigs, poultry, and even parrots.

2008 was another exceptional year for HSI's disaster response efforts. HSI teams went to help animals in India (monsoon and dam break), China (earthquake), Myanmar (cyclone), and Chile (volcano eruption). Veterinary personnel and field specialists provided a range of direct care services to animals and people trying to care for them in catastrophic circumstances.

What next for Haiti?

Even before the earthquake struck, Haiti was one of the world’s most impoverished and poorly developed countries, a nation and a people beset for decades by illness, lack of economic opportunity, and corrupt political leadership. Like far too many places, it lacked even a rudimentary animal care infrastructure. There were no shelters, no animal control agencies, no veterinary colleges, and, regrettably, no animal organizations to advocate for animals or to take action to help them. Even in the most hopeful scenario, it will be a long time before Haiti achieves these features of a humane and civil society. Still, in this bleakest of hours, HSI is offering more than hope, putting boots, brains, and heart on the landscape of a star-crossed nation, doing its best to help animals in a time of urgent need.