Healthy animals for healthy communities

07.11.2017 - Press release

The German NGO “Veterinarians without Borders” is helping rural communities in Sub-Saharan Africa with animal health. The NGO helps to combat the root causes of migration.

“Veterinarians without borders” (VSFG) is a German NGO that has launched projects in Sub-Saharan Africa. The organisation has field offices in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan.

As VSFG dedicates their work to animal health, food security and hygiene, drought prevention and other related work areas they help rural African communities by securing their herd’s health.

Most families in Afar are pastoralists
Most families in Afar are pastoralists© Cornelia Heine

The people of the regions VSFG is operating in are mainly depending on animal husbandry. This means that by providing medical care for domestic animals, the organisation stabilises people’s livelihood what enables them to stay in the regions they are living in without seeing themselves forces to rebuild their existence elsewhere.

Three German veterinaries of VSFG went to the semi-desert region of Afar, Ethiopia in March 2017 where the organisation is currently supporting six aid projects.

Two million people, mainly pastoralists, live in Afar. The region is one of the hottest in the world, often with less than 400 mm of rain a year and temperatures of 50°C or higher.

In Afar, the trio met Esmael, VSFG’s local project manager. He set up the first project in this region, where VSFG was the first foreign NGO active.

Fighting droughts and diseases

In 2016, the region in northeast Africa had to contend with the worst drought in 30 years. More than 500,000 animals in Afar died from a lack of water or fodder, but also from infectious diseases, because they were already severely weakened by the drought.

Afar in Ethiopia is one of the world's hottest regions
Afar in Ethiopia is one of the world's hottest regions© picture alliance/prisma

When the animals die, the people lose the very basis of their livelihoods. Moreover, as in other African countries, livestock in Ethiopia suffers from “Peste Petits Ruminants” (PPR), a highly infectious viral infection and one of the greatest problems in the region.

VSFG helps to contain the disease by training so-called “Community Animal Disease Reporters”, who identify an outbreak of the disease at an early date and report it.

The German NGO can swiftly arrange to have the herds affected vaccinated. In this context, they are part of a global action plan to stamp out the disease launched by the United Nations Food (UNF) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

Such a programme was also effective in eradicating smallpox and rinderpest. Back in the late 1990s, VSFG played a strong role in the drive against rinderpest by training animal health workers in East Africa.

An important contribution to tackling one of the root causes of migration

Vaccination for goats in Ethiopia
Vaccination for goats in Ethiopia© Christoph Gödan

All in all, the veterinarians managed to help 3.2 million people in Africa last year, among others by deworming and vaccinating 6.5 million animals.

In this way, VSFG is not only helping secure the population’s livelihood, but also combatting one of the root causes of migration.

“We are working with people whose livelihoods are based on or closely associated with animal husbandry and making animal products,” says a spokeswoman for the organisation.

Village communities, women’s groups and local authorities seek the advice of the vets, who have meanwhile dispatched more than 1,300 local animal health workers to the various districts.

When the visitors from Germany arrived, the inhabitants begged them for water, as the next water point is seven kilometres away.

Government lorries have been ferrying water to the remote villages since the major drought, and the water is then offloaded into concrete tanks. “However, the help doesn’t always reach everyone,” the team reports.

VSFG's engagement in animal health contributes to the whole community
VSFG's engagement in animal health contributes to the whole community© Cornelia Heine

For this reason, in its projects VSFG not only focusses on vaccinations for the animals, but also on ensuring water supplies for the inhabitants.

Using a so-called “birka”, a water retention basin made of stone, the water runoff in the rainy season can be collected and thus stored. Building such a basin costs 7,000 Euros.

VSFG also supports the laying of water pipes, helps repair defective water points and provides solar-powered pumping systems.

Preserving the topsoil is another project to which VSFG commits time and effort, as strong erosion leads to the loss of precious pastureland.

In so-called “Cash-for-Work” programmes, often hundreds of people from the local communities earn a small wage each day.

How the NGO is funded

In 2016, the NGO had a total budget of 6.7 million Euro, mainly from grants from the European Union Development Fund (EDF), the United States and Australia, as well as from churches.

Some of the projects are financed by donation campaigns, for example the vaccination campaign VSFG runs each year, and in which 1,250 vets in Germany take part. On one day each year they donate half of their earnings from vaccinations.

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