New report explains urgent need to protect animals in disasters
The imperative of protecting animals in disasters is underpinned by the human-animal bond, which influences human evacuation behaviour, the emotional support animals provide to people, the potential public health risks that disruption of health protocols can bring, and often the economic value of animals to humans. And as a result of the Ukrainian refugees crisis in 2022 by people’s willingness to save their animals in disasters. However, there is still little recognition among policymakers and humanitarian actors of the role that animals play in human life and in rebuilding communities after disaster.
Our new report suggests that the basis for the protection of animals in disasters is their legal inclusion in EU disaster law. It also outlines various actions that could be implemented by the EU and its Member States to better address the plight of animals in such circumstances. These include aligning efforts for people in disasters with those for animals, including animal welfare actors in a coordinated joint coordinated capacity during the disaster response phase, developing national disaster management plans involving animal experts, and establishing animal-friendly refugee camps in the EU, among many other initiatives.
The experience of Ukrainian refugees bringing their companion animals with them has shown how much these animals are part of their families. Today, the Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (DG ECHO) is responsible for humanitarian assistance and civil protection in the European Union. Its main instrument - Union Civil Protection Mechanism - recognises in its recitals the need to “reduce the vulnerability of animal welfare and wildlife” as part of disaster risk prevention and management, but there is no obligation to cover animals in terms of protection. Recognising the vital role these animals play in people’s lives could provide a legal basis for DG ECHO to extend its protection efforts to companion animals as family members. Other categories of animals should also benefit from legal protection in the event of a disaster, the legal grounds for which should be examined.
While achieving protection for all species in disasters remains a long term goal, the immediate solution lies in the legal inclusion of animals into disaster law in the EU with the aim of involving animal welfare actors in the development of disaster management plans, and in a coordinated disaster response mechanism in the EU. There is great potential for the EU, Member States and NGOs to work together to be better prepared for disasters in the long term.