Sudan: animal health – a matter of life and death in Darfur

20-01-2012 Interview

Nomads in sub-Saharan Africa rely on their livestock for survival. They treat their animals like family. If their animals contract a disease and die, their own chances of accessing basic necessities, like food, health care and education, also decrease.

For Darfur's pastoral communities, livestock is essential for their sustenance and constitutes the backbone of the local economy. Livestock are exchanged for other needs of the family such as staple food, clothes, medicine or contributions to social events. In exchange for a male sheep, herders can get approximately two big sacks of sorghum, which is enough to feed a family for three months. Male cattle are exchanged for up to ten sacks of sorghum, which can feed six people for 15 months. Herders usually possess from 100-200 animals and some as many as 2,000 animals. However, pastoralist families are often large; therefore, the animals belong to many people. Those who own several hundred animals are considered to be very rich, but they are also very rare.    

Since the ICRC has been extending its support to community animal health by training animal health workers and through large-scale vaccination campaigns in remote areas of Darfur, herders are reporting a dramatic decrease in the number of animals they are losing to disease. The training and vaccination campaigns are organized in close cooperation with the Ministry of Animal Resources and Fisheries (MARF).  

Ursula Kayali, the ICRC's livestock expert in Sudan, explains what the ICRC does to support local nomadic communities in Darfur, an area that has been affected by armed conflict and tribal clashes since 2003.

What is the ICRC's role in community animal health in Sudan?

The ICRC, in close cooperation with the Ministry of Animal Resources and Fisheries, supports the provision of animal health care in nomadic communities throughout Darfur. Since 2005, almost 300 community animal health care workers in remote conflict-affected areas of Darfur have been trained in basic veterinary services, such as vaccination, and equipped with the drugs and tools needed for the treatment of sick animals. The ICRC continues training animal health-care workers in areas not yet covered and organizes annual refresher courses for those already trained.     

With the support it is providing, the ICRC aims to overcome the challenges associated with providing animal health services to highly mobile communities in harsh terrain, with limited infrastructure and volatile security, and at the same time ensure long-term sustainability. The provision of animal health services in Darfur was severely affected by the ongoing conflict. Veterinary clinics in rural areas were destroyed or looted and government veterinary workers lost access to some communities. The biggest advantage of having trained animal health workers in the community is that they follow the animals on their migration and are always available. At present, community animal health workers are working increasingly with state veterinary services, as the state services are now recovering their capacity.  

Who are the community animal health workers and what services do they provide?

The ICRC empowers the community to ensure the sustainability of animal health care. Animal health-care workers are selected by the community and trained by the ICRC in cooperation with MARF on the basis of the national veterinary curriculum.

They learn how to detect disease and provide basic animal health services in remote areas where herders are unlikely to have access to veterinary services, including animal vaccinations. Thanks to their training and the equipment received from the ICRC, they can treat the most common diseases such as parasite infestation, infections or treat wounds. Every animal health worker who has been trained receives drugs like deworming medicine, antibiotics and disinfectants in addition to syringes, needles, tools for teeth and hoof care and instruments for small surgery. They also advise their communities on how animal diseases can be prevented, as well as play an important role in public health, for example, through the inspection of meat. Their services not only significantly improve animal health but also protect human health.

The community animal health workers also supported the recent vaccination campaigns that reached nearly one million animals in Darfur alone in 2011. Some communities saw the mortality of their livestock decrease tenfold after the vaccination.

What is the impact of drought on the life of herders and their communities?

The lack of rain, desertification and prevailing insecurity in Darfur make it difficult for herders to reach water and grazing areas where they used to take their animals, so they start moving their herds earlier in the year in search of new pastures. Overcrowding of animals increases the risk of spreading disease among the already weakened livestock. Prevention of the deadliest diseases such as Haemorrhagic Septicaemia, Black Quarter or small ruminants' plague and the provision of basic treatments are even more important in this situation. For instance Haemorrhagic Septicaemia is a bacterial infection of all types of livestock that causes high morbidity and mortality in herds. Sick animals get high fever and swelling of the neck or chest and they pass the disease on to other animals easily through nose secretions. Only regular vaccination can prevent the high mortality of animals caused by this disease.  

The herding communities also benefit from the ICRC's repairs of public water points along livestock migration routes. This year, working together with local communities and water authorities, the ICRC made it possible for 213,000 people in Darfur and their livestock to access clean water.


Ursula Kayali (top right), the ICRC's livestock expert in Sudan, on a field visit in Darfur. 

Ursula Kayali (top right), the ICRC's livestock expert in Sudan, on a field visit in Darfur.