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    Lost Livestock Mean Lost Livelihoods in Flooded Pakistan

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    In addition to lost crops and possessions, many survivors of Pakistan's floods lost their livestock. Surviving farm animals urgently need food and medical care.

    As in much of the developing world, a family's herds and flocks can mean the difference between poverty and prosperity.

    When Barkat Ali fled the floods in Pakistan's southern Sindh province, he took his animals with him. "Our survival depends on this livestock and nothing else. I could save my life and this livestock. I have asked the government to provide us with grass and water for [them]. If this livestock perishes, we will also die. This is our bread and butter," he said.

    Ali's animals provide his family with butter, meat and milk. But they do much more than that. Especially in western Pakistan, oxen are used as draught (draft) animals. They're indispensible farm equipment, according to Sajjad Imran, country director for the aid agency International Relief and Development, or IRD. "Most of the land preparation is by the bulls. They still use the oxen for the land plowing," he said.

    And as in much of the developing world, livestock are a family's mobile bank account, explains emergency operations officer Julius Jackson, with the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization, or FAO. "When times are good, you build up your herd, and when times are bad you sell them and you cash it in," he said.

    And that's why people made every effort to save them, Jackson says. "I remember seeing people trying to get their buffalo into a boat. And that's how important it is. If you lose your livestock, you really have lost everything," he said.

    Many did lose everything. The Pakistani government estimates that 1.2 million livestock and six million poultry died in the floods.

    Qadir Bakhsh managed to save some of his animals from floods in Sindh province. But he worries about the survivors. "Our animals are hungry. As you can see for yourself they are eating dust and dirt. Many calves and cows have perished. Seven, eight sheep have perished, only two of my sheep survived. The donkeys are also hungry, the buffaloes have grown weak. There is no husk, no oilcake or fodder here. [We are also going hungry and with no facilities, I am wearing old clothes]," he said.

    IRD's Sajjad Imran says it's a problem across the flood-affected regions. "[The] majority of animals just washed away with the flood. And the rest of the animals, they are starving. And they are getting all kinds of diseases," he said.

    And desperate people are being forced to sell their livestock for a fraction of their value, says the FAO's Julius Jackson. "There are stories of people selling a 90,000 rupee buffalo for nine, 10,000 rupees simply because they have no other option," he said.

    The FAO, the Pakistani government, and aid groups have begun to deliver some relief to livestock owners. But there are not enough resources to reach everyone, says Zalynn Peishi with the aid group Oxfam. "I think a lot of organizations are making difficult choices. We have limited funds, so we have to make a choice whether we feed people or we feed livestock," she said.

    Oxfam is giving cash vouchers so families can make that choice themselves. FAO recently began an emergency feeding and veterinary care program in the northwest that aims to reach 50,000 households.

    But the needs are much greater. FAO officials say how many more families they can help will depend on funding from donors - which aid officials say has been slow to arrive.


    Steve Baragona

    Steve Baragona is an award-winning multimedia journalist covering science, environment and health.

    He spent eight years in molecular biology and infectious disease research before deciding that writing about science was more fun than doing it. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a master’s degree in journalism in 2002.

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