Working equines’ climate change role highlighted at COP26

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A donkey ploughing on the West Bank.
A donkey ploughing on the West Bank. “As draught animals, healthy donkeys and mules contribute to both agricultural production and ecological management in rural communities, offering an alternative to mechanised energy where vehicles are expensive or unsuited to the terrain.” © The Donkey Sanctuary

An estimated 500 million people in the world’s most vulnerable communities rely on working equines as a lifeline to support their livelihoods, and at this week’s “COP26” UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, an international charity will be there to speak for them.

Ian Cawsey, Director of Advocacy and Campaigns at The Donkey Sanctuary, said governments represented at COP26 need to consider three key issues about donkeys.

“Firstly, they help create the sustainable livelihoods desired; secondly, donkeys are as vulnerable to climate change as anyone else in the communities they support so must be included in disaster planning, and thirdly, donkeys and mules are key to emergency response and recovery plans.

“With over 40 million working donkeys worldwide someone needs to speak for them, which is what The Donkey Sanctuary team will be doing at COP26”.

Working alongside World Horse Welfare and other international organisations, the charity will explore ways to ensure animals are considered in the battle against global warming. They will also work to ensure the health and safety of working animals are included in negotiations and pledges made at COP26.

Valentina Riva, Advocacy Manager at The Donkey Sanctuary, is contributing speaker at a greener agriculture event “Towards a fair and sustainable transformation of food systems?”.

“As draught animals, healthy donkeys and mules contribute to both agricultural production and ecological management in rural communities, offering an alternative to mechanised energy where vehicles are expensive or unsuited to the terrain,” Riva said.

“Working animals must be considered in the wider context of international development and achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) such as no poverty, zero hunger and quality education as set out by the UN to be achieved by 2030.

When bore holes dry up, donkeys enable women owners to travel longer distances to collect water and help their families to survive.
When bore holes dry up, donkeys enable women owners to travel longer distances to collect water and help their families to survive. © The Donkey Sanctuary

“Ending poverty and hunger for all requires building the resilience of the marginalised and vulnerable to reduce their exposure to climate-related events as well as other environmental shocks. Donkeys and mules help build this resilience.”

Extreme weather events such as drought, fire and flooding are becoming increasingly common because of climate change. Disasters are not always sudden like earthquakes or hurricanes; they can also build up slowly, as in the case of prolonged drought.

Rural communities in East Africa have been able to adapt to new climate conditions using their working donkeys, which can survive in areas of sparse vegetation and little water. When bore holes dry up, donkeys enable women owners to travel longer distances to collect water and help their families to survive.

After climate-change triggered disasters donkeys and mules can also help their owners to get back to work, restoring income and social stability.

Donkeys can transport people in and out of disaster-stricken areas and deliver life-saving aid to communities, which cannot be reached by vehicles. The animals can also transport materials for the re-building of roads, homes and other buildings damaged during the disaster.

Donkeys and mules were able to collect and deliver clean water and supplies after the 2015 earthquake in Nepal. The earthquake, which cost the lives of almost 9000 people, flattened entire villages consisting of low-cost informal buildings that stood little chance of withstanding the devastating impact. It also cut off mountain communities when roads became hazardous or impassable for motorised vehicles.

 

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