Gale's View - Animal Welfare and SPANA
February 26th 2014
With much of the country still under water and hundreds of homes flooded now might not be the best time to raise the issue of water as a scarce resource but, in the interests of what I believe to be a worthwhile cause, let me try.
Next time you turn on the tap and leave it pouring away bear in mind that there are still many places in the World that do not have piped water at all. One such place is Mauritania and I know that because a week ago I spent a long weekend there.
Mauritania is on the bulge of the West Coast of Africa. From a couple of miles of the capital city of Nouakchott there is the sand of the Sahara desert and not a lot else until you reach the banks of the River Nile several countries away in Egypt. As one of my travelling companions said “There is miles and miles of sweet nothing (well, that was more or less what he said) with goats eating it”!
Nouakcott, a settlement created to serve a geographical and political need when Mauritania gained independence from France in 1960, accommodates a million people plus, perhaps, up to a million or so of illegal immigrants from Mali and other adjacent counties who are working to save enough money to travel on, often in terrifyingly small open wooden fishing boats, to the Canary Islands and to Europe. Aside from the tiny area in the centre of the city that enjoys mains water the entire population of the capital and the rest of the country`s six or so million people have to rely upon supplies delivered in old oil drums or canisters drawn by beasts of burden.
In Nouakchott alone there are estimated to be at least one hundred thousand working donkeys, of which some seventy thousand are water-carriers. With each load weighing around half a ton and the cart and scaffolding-pole harness adding another twenty-five per cent to the total load the animals, not surprisingly, suffer.
There are other organisations offering succour and sanctuary to animals in the countries surrounding the Mediterranean and beyond but the Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad (SPANA), of whose Trustees I am the Chairman, is the only major charity dedicated to treating and feeding the animals upon which people rely simply to stay alive and to earn a living. This is not a cosy “touchy-feely” operation. It is a hard-nosed programme that is helping to protect donkeys, mules, horses and, in some countries, camels, to try to keep them, free of charge, in good condition, so that the extended families that rely upon them can continue to drink and eat. At the SPANA centre in Nouakchott the resident local vet and his tiny team of veterinary technicians expect to see, in addition to a dozen or so hospitalised in-patients , fifty out-patient cases and a further thirty at the mobile clinics that commence once the morning surgery is over. A total of eighty donkeys and some carriage horses on every single working day of the year. The majority of the animals are not under-fed but they are suffering from horrific sores caused by badly designed and ill-fitting harnesses and, of course, by wounds inflicted by the owners as they drive them forwards with heavy sticks. A daily supply of antibiotics, antiseptics, together with elementary farriery that removes grotesquely overgrown `toenails` from hooves, helps to keep today`s workers literally on the road while an education programme run in tandem with the treatment seeks to instruct owners and schoolchildren in basic animal husbandry.
We spend a great deal of money, some say unwisely, upon overseas aid. The harsh reality is that some of that money is spent keeping alive today children who will die of hunger or thirst tomorrow. And yet there is no representative of a working animal charity upon the Disasters Emergency Committee and no real recognition in high places that if you want people to survive and to prosper and to become self-sufficient then you need to help them to look after their working animals and their livestock. Just a modest amount of investment in a twin-tracked working animal welfare and education programme could make a massive difference but I fear that in Whitehall and in Brussels there is an attitude that say “we don`t do animals, we do people”.
We shall carry on doing our work, not only in Mauritania but in Mali and in Zimbabwe and in Tunisia and Morocco and Egypt and Jordan and Ethiopia and in any other country where we can find a working partner to help to set up programmes but please, next time you leave a tap running, give a thought to those who do not have that luxury and to the donkeys that daily deliver the stuff of life.