As the European continent is engulfed in a terrible war just when the world is barely inching out of the worst pandemic in a century (and is still not out of it), much of the focus has been on the human condition and the pitfalls in food delivery and medication/vaccines to the “last mouths”. Lost in this focus is the fact that many of us rely on animals for multiple reasons, and these living creatures are facing parallel risks. Food security is an issue for animals too, and they require medical support as much as we do.
This is particularly so in many developing countries where agriculture, pastoral and other animal efforts are core for livelihood and basic living.
The same is often the case for middle- and higher-income countries and their rural communities which depend on cattle, pigs, poultry, or have commercial fish farms. And dogs and cats are important human companions, especially true in times of a pandemic.
Thus, animals and humans are interlinked, and both are affected by the environment, the three being the core of One Health.
The “animal” impact of the Ukraine war and other ongoing disruptions also significantly affect their availability and access to medical supplies and vaccinations. And in other ways, perhaps especially with respect to food, writ large, as described below.
To put this in context, international organizations have identified the countries where vulnerability is most widespread: 94 countries, home to around 1.6 billion people, and of them, some1.2 billion live in a ‘perfect storm’ – countries that are severely exposed and vulnerable to all three dimensions of food, energy, and financing.
The best way for us to understand what this means is to go from a 30,000 feet-high in the sky concept to an example on the ground, so to speak. Such is the case with Kazakhstan, a middle-income country that neighbors Russia. There are already reports of a wave of livestock deaths in Central Kazakhstan blamed on a lack of vaccines from Ukraine and Russia, supplies that were disrupted after Russia launched its invasion some four months ago. And this crisis came on top of a previous one that had started last summer with the most severe drought experienced in the region in human memory, as the following video attests:
Qaiyrbek Tursynbekov, head of the Veterinary Directorate in the Qaraghandy region, said in a televised interview late on June 13 that the sudden wave of cattle mortality was caused by a shortage of vaccines and medicines to fight anaerobic infection and other diseases. Both the vaccines and the medicines are usually supplied by Ukraine and Russia.
And that is how a “perfect storm” is created: A natural disaster (drought) plus a human-made disaster (medicine shortage).
.A brief overview: How war affects food security
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has been dampening global growth prospects, many national fiscal balances have deteriorated, and households have lost disposable income to cover price increases in the basics, such as corn and wheat.
This war has affected grain exports particularly; it and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and increasing numbers of severe climate events, have combined to disproportionately affect the poor. With deepened poverty comes vulnerability for women and girls.
There is this confluence of misfortunes for both countries and at the individual level, with rising food prices, rising fertilizer prices, higher fuel costs, and tightening financial markets making up the four deadly “Fs” today, much like the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse.
Higher fuel and fertilizer prices increase farmer production costs, which likely translate into higher consumer prices. This puts pressure on household finances for other urgent needs such as health care and paying for children’s education. Financial market interest rates rise, borrowing costs increase for developing countries that devalue their currencies, and this, in turn, makes food and energy imports even more expensive.
And within this mix of those harmed are those who rely on livestock. These play a significant role in rural livelihoods and the economies of developing countries. They are providers of income and employment for producers and others working in value chains that are sometimes quite long and complex. They are a crucial asset and safety net for the poor, especially for women and pastoralist groups, and they provide an important source of nourishment for billions of rural and urban households.
What can be done
Food security is at risk in both Ukraine and neighboring countries, but also there are impacts worldwide, and each set of challenges requires its own solutions. Let’s look at them in turn.
- In Ukraine and neighboring countries
Disruption of supply chains, animal health services, and surveillance will affect the early detection, prevention, and control of animal and zoonotic diseases. The risks of disease spread in Ukraine and neighboring countries is a concern and needs to be coordinated and targeted, with risk-based control measures.
In Ukraine itself, the war has caused disruption to the normal animal health surveillance and control, resulting in delayed recognition of and response to important animal diseases.
Large numbers of abandoned livestock and pet animals pose heightened risks of transmission and spread of the disease.
The likelihood of spillover of pathogens especially those associated with transboundary animal diseases, zoonoses, and wildlife-related diseases increases with war.
Consider what happens with porous borders, uncontrolled movement of animals, or undisposed carcasses of animals left after bombardments that may cause diseases. But the impact of war doesn’t stop there as encroachment and destruction of wildlife habitats cause displacement of wild and domestic animals and increase the interface between humans, wildlife, and domestic animals. Clearly, food security is at risk.
In short, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has massively disrupted the livestock sector, animal health services, and animal production in commercial, smallholder, and backyards.
Usual supply chains for feeds, veterinary medications, and product transportation are likely to be broken or lengthened due to damage to transport infrastructure.
In the fog of war, it is very hard to focus beyond the immediate and visual danger. But to the extent possible, efforts should be made to address the food security challenges, including:
- Risk communication campaigns to inform general populations, physicians, military forces, farmers, veterinarians, foresters, and others about the possible emergence/spread of transboundary diseases including zoonosis, such as rabies, leptospirosis.
- Activate early warning systems applying the One Health approach with multi-sectoral and multidisciplinary coordination including farmers, physicians, veterinarians, public health specialists, foresters, hunters, gamekeepers, ornithologists, and other wildlife experts.
It is important to acknowledge there has been massive and very welcomed support by western countries in helping Ukraine respond on the battlefield and the humanitarian crisis. Some of these external “humanitarian” resources, however, could effectively and proactively be used to address the two areas described above.
The need for the Ukraine public to be aware and alert to non-military–but very real– threats to their wellbeing, should be part of the external assistance agenda, including support for a warning system and provision made for financial assistance to Ukrainian technical professionals needed to sustain it.
International organizations have begun to pay attention and started to deal with these concerns. On April 8, 2022, the Food and Agriculture Council which always pays attention to world food security was advised of the impact of the conflict in Ukraine on animal health; and the above recommendations were made, as well as a set of more specific recommendations to address the possibility of African swine fever (ASF) in Ukraine and neighboring countries (see para. 57 e). As above, it called for early detection, timely reporting and rapid containment of the disease, including setting up surveillance schemes and targeted sampling of animals to support early detection of ASF in both pigs and wild boars.
Pets in the war were not forgotten– the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) up to May 15 had set up a “blue tent” on the Polish border for emergency aid to help Ukrainian refugees coming through with their pets. IFAW has announced that it will continue to assist refugees and their pets entering Poland via the Przemyśl train station with two IFAW-supported Ukrainian veterinarians and they have outlined a multi-year project plan for continued support.
- The Global Perspective
Financial Resources: Looking beyond Ukraine’s challenges, current levels of external funding to support the animal/human/ecosystem interface have been insufficient.
A recent white paper entitled “A Proposed Financial Intermediary Fund (FIF) for Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness and Response Hosted by the World Bank’ jointly prepared by WHO and the World Bank estimates that external financing amounting to an additional $10.5 billion per year over the next five years, is needed for investments at the country, regional and global level to strengthen the capacity of low-income and middle-income countries.
This estimate includes a focus on the following:
“Strengthen country-level Prevention, Preparedness and Response (PPR) capacity by plugging capacity and capability gaps at country and local level in core domains listed by the International Health Regulations (2005) and the OIE International Standards, including: 1) disease surveillance; 2) laboratory systems; 3) emergency communication and management; 4) community engagement. Needs will be contextual and country-specific, and financing priorities would be based on country-driven assessment and coordination efforts and guided by the plans and priorities of beneficiaries and One Health principles.”
Vaccines for the Future: A recent article focused on vaccines and described the current status of vaccination, innovations, and future pathways to address both human and animal infectious disease outbreaks, perspectives of the multiple disciplines of its authors.
The article included the following observation:
“The past 20 years have witnessed four fatal coronavirus outbreaks… Scientific evidence and ecologic reality suggest that coronaviruses will emerge again in the future, potentially posing an existential threat.
We need a research approach that can characterize the global “coronavirus universe” in multiple species, characterize the natural history and pathogenesis of coronavirus in laboratory animals and in humans, and apply this information in developing broadly protective “universal” vaccines (protecting against all beta coronaviruses, and ideally all coronaviruses).”
That conclusion remains equally valid if you look at the food security problem writ large as done here, using the “animal” lens: Vaccines need to be developed for animals too, and not just laboratory animals. And that is also true when it comes to concerns about medications as well as the animal feed and food chain: We rely on them, and they rely on us.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com columnists are their own, not those of Impakter.com. — In the Featured Photo: A recurrent image, as drought threatens livelihoods: Here, in Ethiopia, Zahara Mohammed, 12, moves her family’s livestock in the Afar region, photo taken on Tuesday 8 April 2014. Her family is pastoralist and moves to look for greener pastures for their livestock; in this situation, ABEC, Alternative Basic Education Center supported by UNICEF is crucial for the education and guidance of her and her family. Source: Flickr cc