• Whether domestic, farmed or wild, animals are impacted in the same way as humans by natural disasters or conflicts.

  • However, they are rarely taken into account in the management of emergency and rescue plans.

    In 2005, after Hurricane Katrina in the United States, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw) launched a program to remedy this.

  • Already operational in many countries, mainly in the Southern Hemisphere, Ifaw also launched it a year ago in Europe.

    Cécile Sissler-Bienvenu, who is in charge, explains why.

“I can say that you have done an exceptional job because there are no victims, neither among the populations, nor among the firefighters who are fighting”.

On July 20, in La Teste-de-Buch, in Gironde, Emmanuel Macron paid tribute to the fire soldiers mobilized to fight the fires which ravaged 20,800 hectares of forests in the region in twelve days.

Zero victims?

This is without counting the animals, on which shelters and local environmental associations have sought to draw attention on social networks.

If we understand that Emmanuel Macron evokes the absence of "human" victims, the assessment he draws says a lot about the lack of consideration of animals in disaster management plans, points out Cécile Sissler-Bienvenu, of the Fund International for Animal Welfare (Ifaw).

For a year, the NGO has been working to rectify the situation in Europe.

She launched her “Emergency relief during disasters and risk reduction” program there, which Cécile Sissler-Bienvenu is in charge of.

She responds to

20 Minutes


#IncendiesGironde 🔥: what to do if you have found a wild animal requiring care and how to help our @LPOAk care center located nearby 🙏 #laTestedeBuch #feuxdeforet https://t.co/CknGSaoc53

– LPO France (@LPOFrance) July 19, 2022

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Are animals always the forgotten victims of natural disasters, although they are often the most exposed?

They are in any case impacted in the same way as people, undergo the same traumas.

This is obvious for pets and farm animals, who live with us and are under our responsibility.

But it is also true for wildlife.

We have just seen it in Gironde, as we saw during the gigantic fires in Australia at the end of 2019-beginning of 2020, through the highly publicized fate of koalas.

Each time, it is very difficult to precisely determine the loss of biodiversity.

They are considerable when the assessment includes small mammals, insects and batrachians.

Clearly, all animals that do not have the ability to flee, but which are crucial for the health of ecosystems.

Even those who were a priori able to escape the flames more easily did not come out of business.

They can die further from poisoning, be crushed more easily because disoriented, not recover from the destruction of their habitats… We are still too little aware of this.

Very often, animals are forgotten victims because they are silent, too little taken into account in rescue and relief plans.

Where did this “Emergency disaster relief and risk reduction” program come from?

This program is not new.

It was structured in the United States in 2005, during Hurricane Katrina, which claimed tens of thousands of victims.

The American authorities were overwhelmed and turned to animal protection associations, which already had expertise in animal rescue.

Including Ifaw.

The idea was to relieve the relief of the animal assistance part, so that they could focus on people.

Subsequently, the United States reactivated this coalition of associations on several occasions, in particular during fires and hurricanes which regularly affect the country.

And, for its part, Ifaw has set up this program which is now operational in many countries.

Mainly in the Southern Hemisphere, which is generally more exposed to natural disasters and where there is sometimes a lack of firefighters or associations specializing in animal rescue.

How does this program work?

Its most visible part is the intervention in the field, in a disaster area, where we are sometimes called upon to pick up animals with dedicated teams.

But we always work in consultation with the local authorities.

There has to be a request on their part and needs identified for us to intervene.

Then there are two scenarios.

Either we work alongside rescuers in a common effort, with them focusing on people, we on animals.

Either we are in support.

The emergency services bring the animals to us and we provide first aid and then evacuation to dedicated structures, shelters or others.

In total, we can mobilize up to forty people, with very diverse specialties, around the world.

But it's not all about emergency action.

Most of the program is about after.

We help local populations to be better prepared for the future, by including their animals in evacuation plans.

We do this at the level of local authorities, but also of animal owners*.

This work is not in vain.

We did it in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. It trained Haitians in animal rescue, so we didn't always have to intervene on site during the disasters that followed.

Why launch this program in Europe?

This seemed necessary to us as the continent risks being increasingly impacted by disasters.

Droughts, floods, fires, earthquakes, but also wars, which do not spare animals.

In Europe, the program has been operational for a year.

There are already here, very often, significant resources mobilized in civil security and a network of animal protection associations, some of which specialize in rescue.

So we expect more to be supporting or advising.

What actions have been taken in one year?

About forty Ifaw workers intervened on the sidelines of the war in Ukraine, on the Polish border, between March 12 and June 30.

In particular, we had a tent at the Médyka border post, under which we welcomed the refugees who had fled with their pets.

We carried out health checks and provided the necessary – crates and transport bowls in particular – for the rest of their trip.

Two of our veterinarians, Ukrainians, came to support the Polish authorities at the Pzremysl railway station.

Always to welcome pets, vaccinate them against rabies, chip them, establish a temporary health book for them... In total, the operation has helped nearly 5,000 animals.

This is the only intervention on the ground, in Europe, for the moment.

At the same time, we provided emergency grants to local animal rescue associations responding to disasters.

In particular one in Germany, during the floods of last summer, which enabled him to buy a quad to reach difficult areas.

We did the same with a Sicilian association after the floods last October.

This is another part of our program, for which associations can contact us via europedisasters@ifaw.org

Would you have liked to be called upon during the recent fires in France?

We have just one year in Europe, and we still need to make ourselves known.

But I'm sure we can help.

At least to develop a more structured management of animal relief during disasters, which does not rely solely on the solidarity of individuals, even if this is very commendable.

Here again, we are not starting from zero in France.

In November, the Matras law, which governs the operation of civil security, was even amended to integrate animal rescue into the mission of firefighters.

Previously, the text said that they should rescue people, property and the environment, in that order.

Animals were added in second place.

We must now put this new philosophy into practice.

Much remains to be done, but progress is being made.

On July 2, for example, we participated in the first animal rescue days organized by the Departmental Fire and Rescue Service (Sdis) of Moselle, with whom we have been in partnership for a year and a half.


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