Giving livestock LEGS

When clashes broke out in Yemen in 2009 thousands of displaced people turned up at camps with their animals, seeking shelter. But UN agencies and NGOs were providing tents for people - not animals. “They had no idea what to do,” said Nacif Rihani, animal production officer at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). “They needed to know about LEGS [Livestock Emergency Guidelines and Standards].”

Released in 2009 to improve the quality and professionalism of emergency livestock responses, LEGS outlines minimum standards in how to distribute animal feed, water, shelter and veterinary services; how best to destock flocks; and the right conditions for distributing livestock.

The idea for LEGS started in 2000 when aid workers in Darfur, Sudan, realized there was a disconnect between the type of help communities needed and the response aid agencies were providing, said veterinary consultant and one of the LEGS handbook authors David Hadrill.

If livestock interventions are not done properly, they can cause more harm than good, said FAO’s Rihani. “Helping animals that are sick in the wrong way can help spread diseases to healthy animals... or destocking in a culturally inappropriate way can create conflict,” he told IRIN. “For instance, in the past some animals have been killed in ways that are not acceptable to Muslims, meaning they rejected the meat,” he said.

Emergency and development responses often clash. “When emergency livestock assistance is done badly, it can disturb long-term livestock development projects,” Rihani continued. In northern Kenya, a long-term community-led veterinary scheme which took a cost-recovery approach to animal health care, was disrupted when emergency agencies gave free medicines to herders using “a truck and chuck approach, giving communities mixed messages”, said Rihani. This undermined the long-term scheme, and communities started to abandon it, he said.

The LEGS training team are rolling out six training for trainer workshops in Southeast Asia, the Horn and East Africa, Southern Africa, West Africa and Southern Asia, this year. Next year they will target the Middle East, Caribbean and Latin America, said LEGS trainer Sylvie Robert.

Rosters of respondents for livestock emergencies are being developed in tandem with the training which, said Robert, showed the LEGS team had learned lessons from the Sphere emergency response guidelines. “LEGS has been much quicker to be implemented,” she told IRIN.

All types of emergency practitioners are encouraged to undergo LEGS training, not just livestock specialists. Participants in a September 2010 West Africa training session in the Senegalese capital Dakar included food security, nutrition and emergency response managers, as well as donors.

Still slow

Despite steady progress in rolling out training and developing rosters of qualified staff, launching quality livestock responses in crises is still slow, admits Hadrill, given experts were calling out for a greater livestock focus in East Africa pastoralist crises in the 1980s.

The complaint that aid agencies and donors have been slow to respond to livestock needs in the current food security and water crisis across the Sahel, is not a new one.

In the current humanitarian coordination system, livestock interventions come under the agriculture cluster (led by FAO), which, aid workers say, is not known for its speedy emergency response.

But with more aid agencies taking a “saving lives and livelihoods” approach, NGO and UN interest in quality response is increasing, said Rihani.

The next step is to spread the word, he says, and to get more government practitioners and donors on board.