Helping to keep livestock alive in emergencies

14 April 2014 | Sphere Project

Livestock in Mbera refugee camp, MauritaniaNomadic refugees in Mbera camp (southeastern Mauritania) take their livestock to a drinking reservoir. © Anna Jefferys/IRIN

Livestock are key livelihood assets for many people in rural areas. No wonder that a specific set of standards has been developed to help practitioners deal with a much-neglected area of humanitarian practice involving livestock owners and their animals.

A trained social anthropologist, Cathy Watson has been the Coordinator of the Livestock Emergency Guidelines and Standards (LEGS) Project since its inception eight years ago. She has spent the last almost 30 years working in development. Before joining LEGS, her interest in pastoralism had brought her to East Africa, where she worked in Kenya and Uganda, focusing in particular on gender issues.

In the following interview, Watson explains how LEGS, which is one of the Sphere Project companion standards, is helping promote livelihoods-based thinking and improve the quality of livestock-based responses in emergencies.

What are "livestock emergency interventions" in simple words?

The LEGS Handbook focuses on support to livestock keepers in emergencies. They offer guidelines on activities that can help them protect or rebuild livestock during or after an emergency. These include interventions like animal health care, provision of livestock feed and water, provision of livestock shelter, destocking and restocking.

The idea behind LEGS is that many of the people affected by disasters own livestock, which contributes to their livelihoods. Providing support that helps them keep some animals alive in an emergency is a way to protect the livelihoods on which people depend. And that increases their ability both to survive the disaster and to rebuild their lives afterwards.

How did the Livestock Emergency Guidelines and Standards come into being?

LEGS grew out of concerns about inappropriate and poorly implemented livestock projects during emergencies. Local capacities and services were often overlooked or undermined, timing was poor and there was little coordination between on-going development approaches and emergency response.

In response to these concerns, some humanitarian agencies began exploring how to address these issues. That's how the idea of developing guidelines along the lines of those established by the Sphere Project, but focusing on livestock interventions, was born.

Why did you need "standards" to improve livestock interventions?

As in many other sectors, there is a lot of good and a great deal of poor practice in livestock-based emergency response.

LEGS draws on evidence-based good practice from around the world. It seeks to bring together only those activities and methods that have been proven to be effective in supporting livelihoods during emergencies.

The standards provide qualitative guidance to promote such good practice. They include key issues like timing, appropriateness and feasibility to help ensure the best possible impact.

What have you achieved since the launch of the LEGS standards?

The LEGS Project began in 2006. Following a Sphere-like consultation process drawing on a wide range of practitioners and policy-makers from around the world, the LEGS Handbook was published in English in 2009. It has been translated and published in Arabic, French and Spanish. There are also soft versions in Thai and Vietnamese available on our website.

We then developed a training programme to disseminate the guidelines. Through regional training of trainers courses, people from the countries in those regions are equipped with the tools and skills to deliver three-day LEGS training courses. Today, there are 285 LEGS trainers from 68 countries. Between them, they have trained over 3,000 people in 32 countries with no assistance from the LEGS Project.

LEGS is increasingly recognised as a standard and reference for key agencies such as the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO) and a growing number of international and local NGOs. LEGS has recently been formally endorsed by the Federation of Asian Veterinary Associations.

When it comes to impact, a study of the uptake of LEGS in Kenya and Ethiopia during the recent crisis concluded that in both countries LEGS has been institutionalized within government disaster management structures. This has positive results, especially for drought-affected communities.

Thanks to the implementation of LEGS, Kenyan and Ethiopian local government staff are now able to assess emergency situations and plan earlier for cyclical drought occurrences as well as make bids for funds based on early warning information. The timing of interventions such as veterinary support has improved as well

What has the companionship with the Sphere Project contributed to your work?

The companionship agreement with Sphere has been very valuable for LEGS, which from the beginning was conceived as a complement to the Sphere Handbook.

We were in discussion with the Sphere Project throughout the development of the LEGS Handbook and drew on much of Sphere's experience. This includes both the format of the Handbook (standards, indicators, guidance notes, etcetera), as well as the process of broad stakeholder consultation, multi-donor funding and avoiding close alignment with a single agency.

LEGS has two main constituencies. First, livestock specialists who are already engaged in livestock responses in emergencies. Second, general humanitarians who may be encouraged to incorporate more livelihoods thinking and activities into their response. Our relationship with Sphere gives us credibility in the humanitarian sector and opens communications with non-livestock specialists.

At the same time, we are able to promote Sphere and other companion standards to actors who may be unfamiliar with them. Over the last year, our relationship with the other companion standards has also grown and we are finding increasing value in sharing our experiences and information.

What are some of your plans?

We're currently in the process of revising and updating the LEGS Handbook and are looking forward to the publication of a second edition later this year.

We're planning the next training of trainers in the Caribbean region, and hope to do more in North America and Northern Europe next year.

We hope that awareness and uptake of LEGS will continue to grow, helping to promote livelihoods-based thinking and to improve the quality of livestock-based responses in emergencies.

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