Expert of the Week   for  28 Jul - 03 Aug 2014

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Gerardo Huertas

Global Director Animals in Disasters Program

World Animal Protection (WSPA) Expertise:  Technical rescue of animals. Disaster relief, disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation for farm and domestic animals. Disaster risk management for ministries of agriculture and animal husbandry and for the public as well as animal owners

Costa Rican by birth; studied Marine Biology in Cluj Napoca, Rumania; law and human resources and project management in Costa Rica. Led disaster relief operation all over the world (Kabul, Pristina, Port au Prince, Colombo, Manila, etc.), working after hurricanes, volcano eruptions, floods, droughts, etc. Started to work with WSPA (World Society for the Protection of Animals) in early 1982, moving through all the organizational levels up to Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean. Moved to Disaster Management Director for LAC in 2010 up to date. (WSPA is now called World Animal Protection). Gerardo is married with two children.

Disaster risk reduction applied to farming and livestock management: a key to sustainable development in rural areas

Read more on the context

QQuestion by Leopoldo Estol

Maybe insurance-based system let die animals because they pay their cost... Nothing about sustainability or welfare because the price rise 2 or 3 time over premium without remedy, as happening in Mexico with drought. I guess this doesn't work

Leopoldo Estol

APosted on 03 Aug 2014

Dear Dr Estol:
Insurance is one classic way of transferring the risk one has to someone else, but it work poorly in the case of livestock. Another -less perfect- example on transferring the risk of small cattle producers is for example, developing a special fund for livestock, like in the case of SENASA in Costa Rica and possibly Argentina.
Insurance and re-insurance Systems are based on the restitution of the face value of the insured asset, In this case, livestock.
When a disaster strikes and the animals perish, the owner of this assets or the government would have paid monthly sums plus an initial premium. In this case -activation of the insurance- and once proper identification of the animals and the pre-conditions of the event and context have been met, The insuring company pays the insured amount minus a percentage in most cases

If events of this nature happens 2-3 times, the premium raises until it is impractical or the insuring company decides to discontinue it due to the expected diagnoses of bad business in the statistical analysis
This is the current tendency with desertification and droughts, so with Climate Change, the prospects aren't good
Insurance companies do no request preparedness or risk reduction plans, and neither banks do it when lending money to grow cattle under risk. If they did it as a precondition, billions of dollars would be saved, and millions of animals too.
By insuring animals under the current conditions, no further precautions need to be taken, and under difficult conditions, it is actually easier to let them die to the collect the insurance money.
This is cruel but mostly not sustainable anyway you look at it; it was never meant to be. Resilience is the goal, and the only way to build resilience is if local governments champion it, if national governments foster it and make banks and financial institutions request risk management plans be part of the business proposals, just as these institutions manage any other financial risks.
Animal Scientists will need to get on board, to show their clients the way ahead.
I hope this helps

QQuestion by Leopoldo Estol

Dear Gerardo From time to time Argentina suffer major floods and a lot of animals suffer & death. We have no oficial policies about prevention and education. How the private (livestock associations) sector can do the right job that w must do ahead?

Leopoldo Estol

APosted on 02 Aug 2014

Dear Dr Estol
Controlled markets prices such ad the meat one in Argentina complicate the issue for small producers! But the pilot in Reconquista provided interesting elements to build the answer you seek, including reducing the herd size (pregnant and calfs first), time for the seasonal floods, or pulling resources together to hire or even buy evacuating barges.
We hope the pilots in Costa Rica and in Mexico and the research of ECOLARGE should provide good, clear and solid argumentation and metrics, but without professionals in Animal Sciences to back it it will be difficult, both on the private and public sectors
Next October, IFRC, World Animal Protection and UNISDR among others will convene in Geneva to discuss and strategize this very issue for HFA2. Wish us luck

QQuestion by Leopoldo Estol

How we can build animal welfare as central role towards building community resilience after droughts in a low income society without official support?

Leopoldo Estol

APosted on 02 Aug 2014

I am afraid this is not the forum to discuss animal welfare doctor!

QQuestion by Leopoldo Estol

Dear Gerardo
For veterinarians, animal related aspects of disaster preparedness must be a pre graduated topic w/ mandatory updated None of this happens today in most of Sudamerica. How we can build this task force in the near future?

Leopoldo Estol

APosted on 02 Aug 2014

Dear Dr. Estol::
Until recently, this topic was alien in the veterinary world, but things are changing fast.  The most recent congress of the Latin American Federation of Veterinary Schools discussed the issue and we announced an online course for veterinary students based on developing Risk Mapping and Risk Reduction skills for animals, and Climate Change Adaptation.  The latter subject will be crucial for the  food and livelihood protection of millions of families in this continent, and it is happening already with El Niño.
We plan to first develop a pilot of this VERU 2.0 in 10 schools in Mexico this year and then take it to Argentina, Colombia, Brazil and elsewhere before 2020. The "special extra" feature will be to teach students how to champion preparedness and charge their clients, from big and small farms, to pet owners, or from the public function in the minister of Agriculture
One of the reasons for the delay in bringing the HFA pillars may be the generalized  lack of a preparedness culture in most professions, let alone animal sciences. India is setting up versions of the original VERU (focused on emergency response only) but apart from India, in Asia and Africa the situation seems to be even bleaker than in Latin America.
The VERU 2.0 -or any similar effort for than matter- and the veterinary schools and the students will need coaching with the risk maps. These are exciting times, prior to a new frontier for the veterinary and the animal sciences professions, the pillars of the protein segment of our nutrition...among other things.
We hope you join us!

QQuestion by Dr August West

I am curious if you recommend bamboo as a shelter material? I believe bamboo is very strong and lightweight, and of course in abundance in hurricane-prone regions. Look forward to your thoughts!

Dr August West Researcher | Independent
United States of America

APosted on 31 Jul 2014

Dear Dr. West:
Thank you for your question. The devil is in the details.
You are 120% correct. When we started our pilot in The Philippines, the first order of business was to favour local materials and local wisdom and knowledge when building structures. Bamboo is a miracle plant, very light and incredibly resilient, in the best sense of the word.
To develop and champion roof panels than may be easily dismounted and secured to the ground, thus presenting no resistance to typhoon-like winds, one has to favour weight, structural integrity and so on.
Palm tree leaves are also an excellent choice for keeping it cool underneath, specially during the hot summer months, and local folk are expert in weaving these leave together so neat and close that rain does not comes through.
The best news is all of these materials are available locally and reasonably cheap!

In the case of semi-underground shelter roofs for animals, the trick is securing everything tightly and deep -more so than in regular buildings where no high winds are expected- and leaving no profile or resistance for the high winds to pick on and destroy. This may be achieved by starting the edges of the roof right off the ground or even a few inches lower!
I invite you to contact World Animal Protection in the USA (NY) to jointly explore other exciting building options to foster the resilience -and the progress & prosperity- of rural farmers around the world!  (
The amount of good and savings we can do and generate with new, simple solutions like these is yet to be calculated, but we are working at it, and it may mean a world of difference for tens of thousands of farmers and their families around the world.
May I use this opportunity to urge engineers, architects and contractors to consider these structural topics for the future of their own societies, both at the rural and urban levels.
Best regards,

QQuestion by Mr Mohammad Tarikul Islam

I am working in a project as a researcher and it is working for intervention with poultry rearing for extreme poor which will ensure direct intervention for nutrition; How I can ensure that in Bangladesh it will be resilient in natural disaster?

Mr Mohammad Tarikul Islam Researcher | Personal

APosted on 31 Jul 2014

Dear Mr. Tarikul:
Excellent work you are doing. I hope the attached material may be of interest.
Yesterday, we discussed the need for determining the real value animals have for family economies, especially after disasters strike and crops and other types of assets are lost.
In the case of the very poor, we have observed that chicken can be the first step-animal in the savings department for poor families, rural or not. The minute a couple of dollars may be saved, the family would buy a chicken, then another, and another. If the birds survive, there will come the time to sell them and buy a pig, and then two, until a cow can be bought.

But there is more. In Haiti, the Vice-Minister of Agriculture during the great earthquake, Dr. M. Chancy once stated that backyard animals -like in the above example- have clear and pre-determined, important uses in his rural society. Some are reared to buy books and uniforms when school starts, some are to buy medicine, while some are to pay for wedding expenses or eventual hospitalization, if it need be.
I am fully aware of the primary, intense role on food security these animals may have for these families, as they may be the only way to access eggs, milk and meat, which only brings complexity and importance to the picture you paint!
The description of the dynamics of this process may not be as simple as I am depicting it here and for sake of brevity, but then again, it may.
Once governments understand and are able to put a price tag on this crucial microeconomic issue that provides resilience to poor families, they will be able to factor it. That will include saving the initial backyard animals from perishing, as we all know how expensive, partial, sometimes unfair and complex in logistic terms can restocking efforts be.
My worry is that those interested and involved in disaster risk management are yet to focus on these issues, while those interested and involved in farm animals are yet to focus on disaster risk reduction.

To answer your specific question about chicken in Bangladesh for the poor, a couple of years ago, we developed a somewhat similar solution together with the local office of FAO in Paraguay. El Chaco is a giant floodplain region extending across several South American countries, including Paraguay.
Local farmers lost their poultry to flooding on a regular basis, followed by cold spells and droughts. One blow after the other. During the restocking effort led by FAO, we recommended procuring local breeds from nearby regions, more accustomed to the harsh weather. Then we designed a series of simple guidelines in a brochure in Spanish and in the local language of the native culture (Guarani), to give the owners and their birds a fighting chance, including simple elevated racks to allow them to scape the floods. Please find a link to this brochure, included for your perusal. Incidentally, this particular piece in English was adapted for our Asia Pacific Office in Bangkok, and back when our name was not World Animal Protection.
In the case of typhoons in Bangladesh, more shelter may be needed from high winds, and as with our current pilot for small pig pens in The Philippines, the key for the success of these shelters is to present the lowest profile possible, so they offer little or no resistance to the overwhelming force of high winds. Our current efforts are now focused on inexpensive solutions. Our Asia Pacific colleagues would be glad to keep you posted of the results of our pilots. Their contacts details were posted yesterday on another answer.
Finally, these brochures in Paraguay were kept simple (language and concepts were validated with recipients for clear comprehension) and were accompanied by brief -in situ- instructions and training for the final recipients of these birds, field monitoring of the bird’s initial transport & handling, and epidemiological considerations on whether to pre-vaccinate the birds or not, etc.  

I hope this helps. The best of luck with your efforts.

QQuestion by Tarcisio Mulek

Mr. Gerardo Huertas,
Could you please link climate change with the issues regarding animals in farming? In Argentina, where I live, the whether is different 4/5 years from now. What should we have in mind? Thank you so much! Best! Tarcisio

Tarcisio Mulek

APosted on 30 Jul 2014

Dear Tarcicio:

Thank you for your insightful question.
Climate Change is being blamed for all kinds of things nowadays, including our chronic lack of

Right now, El Niño is the one to blame, but this is not new,
we just don’t pay attention, learn and adapt.

The short version to this tale is that the weather is likely
to become more intense than what owe recollect in our short-term collective memories, thus we need to prepare and adapt our animal herds to it.

An example of how this can be approached is available in the
link  below about an interesting case
study about desertification and cattle in Mexico:

In Central America for example, El Niño is drying up very large sectors and the pastures for millions of head of cattle. In Costa
Rica, agriculture authorities are currently planning strategies to cope with this, and some
of the immediate recommendations include the following:

An important push on awareness levels for
livestock producers

Reducing and improving the genetics and shape of
the herd

Planting resistant species of pasture and managing
it better

Considering and developing ways to collect and
keep the little rain water that may or may not be available

In other regions.
Climate Change may also mean long, cold spells,
as in the case of the highlands of Bolivia, a case presented in a previous question.
the other end of the spectrum, some of the Caribbean island countries are
reporting two years of hot, continued droughts, accompanied by dreadful forest

This only means we will need to work and invest more, to
obtain similar results, and vice versa,
if we expect to keep similar levels of labour and investment, the yields will
be less and our livestock will suffer.

The only visible alternative is awareness and preparedness
through adaptation, planning and innovation.

But Climate Change will not only affect livestock in rural
settings; Latin America is moving rapidly towards the cities, and the rings
around big cities grow sometimes beyond control. Attached please find an interesting perspective about this issue, and from elsewhere around the world.

With that in mind, we are currently developing online training
on Risk Reduction & Climate Change Adaptation (CCA) for Animals, and with the
veterinary and animal science audiences in mind. We are also considering to co-host
an event with experts that would explore the possible scenarios for Adaptation to Climate
Change for Animals in Mexico next year, to foster discussion about livestock
and CCA in the continent.

I hope this helps


QQuestion by Mr Jorge Solís

Dear Gary: At the beginning of the exploitation of shale gas frakking By, Los Ranchos de Coyame, Ojinaga and Manuel Benavides Information will be harmed in their water sources, what DO DAMAGE to mitigate and prevent resilience. It's urgent.

Mr Jorge Solís Consultor | Ejido Aldama, Chihuahua, México

APosted on 30 Jul 2014

Dear Mr. Solís:
If I understand your question correctly, your subsurface water reservoirs may be getting affected or contaminated by other types of energy resource exploitation in Chihuaha. Assessing this kind of impact with a good level or certainty is not an exact science, but if this may end up affecting pastures and then the livestock (and the people, your local government should run water availability or/and toxicology tests, and the affected public (electors) should be made aware of this so they can write to the state government. 
I am sorry I can't be of further service, but this is out of my expertise. It is, no doubt a serious, legitimate concern. Good luck.

QQuestion by Tarcisio Mulek

Mr Huertas,
Please, share your point of view regarding latin american response to disaster or better: please let us know how to be prepared for disasters in terms of animals in farming. Thank you & best! Tarcisio

Tarcisio Mulek

APosted on 30 Jul 2014

Dear Tarcisio:

Overall, I
believe there are two main areas in the Latin American region we need to work
on, in terms of including animals into disaster response protocols. The first is better research into the long-term impact family
economies suffer due to livestock losses, specially on small to medium size producers.
We have started to do so by measuring the positive impact of investing in
emergency relief for livestock after emergencies.

In the case of the Assam floods in India,
cost/benefit analysis demonstrated the critical consequence between economic
productivity and losing livestock in a disaster. It was thus estimated that $96
dollars of economic value were directly supported by every $1 spent in WSPA’s
response to rapid-onset flooding in India.


Food for thought.

In Kenya (another example), WSPA’s
drought intervention generated $2.74 of benefits in the form of avoided losses
for every $1 spent over a one year period, 
while if the time period were to be extended to 3 years, the
benefit-cost ratio increased to $6.69 in benefits for every $1 spent.

- - - -

The second best deed we can do to protect our
livestock from disasters is preparedness. With that said, I worked in
Reconquista, Argentina a few years ago, and for 2-3 years, to tackle the amount
of livestock lost to flooding when the Parana river raises.

We developed clear risk reduction concepts
for this particular risk with local producers and a variety of stakeholders,
and it worked for several years! In recent years, we kept the awareness through
radio PSAs.

In partnership with FAO and the local
municipality, we are building shelters for the alpaca population in a remote
area of Bolivia, threatened by drought and low temperatures. The municipality
will need to work with the central government to keep this initiative going.

In my experience, these initiatives need a
longer lifespan to root in. Local municipal and provincial governments need to
back and sustain them in time, above and beyond governments changes. This level
of governance is close enough to understand context and microeconomies and feel
the pain, and far enough from central government changes to survive changes
every four years or so.  With a little
bit of luck and a champion or two, a couple such periods may achieve critical
mass and sustainability.

I hope this helps.

QQuestion by Mr Joenel Lou Tagalog

Hi. As part of our community-based DRR program, we plan to implement a small scale hog-raising project to a village of 70 households affected by Typhoon Haiyan. Can you help us with a scheme/mechanism to make this program sustainable? Thanks!

Mr Joenel Lou Tagalog DRR Programme Coordinator | MERCY Malaysia

APosted on 30 Jul 2014

Dear Mr.
Tagalog: Good timing!
The size of community you mention is very similar to the ones we are working with. In the case of
the Early Warning pilot for farm animals, we have a field validation exercise
programmed for this fall.

The pilot -and case
study- on pig pens resistant to high winds plus the underground shelters for animals, developed
in cooperation with the local university should also be ready before the end of
the year.

If you could get
in contact with my Asia Pacific colleagues, they can keep you posted and eventually
share the lessons learned or put you in touch with our partners in The

Dr. Steven Clegg
is the Disaster Respose Team Leader for Asia Pacific and he is at <>  The pilot seems more suitable for your needs for sustainability! Regards,

QQuestion by Ms Andrea Vargas

Why do early warning systems fail in the case of livestock?

Ms Andrea Vargas Consultant | Consultant

APosted on 29 Jul 2014

Dear Ms. Vargas:


Yours is the 50.000 dollar question.

By the tone of it, you have probably
witnessed failures in this field, but not everything is lost. 

A small number of companies in the
farm animal industry have in fact taken very interesting and progressive
preparedness actions.  
One of the largest dairy companies
in Central America for instance, has mastered successful preparedness and mitigations options, and it is
now interested in developing early warning around volcanoes and for their
members. The size of this company and its business continuity policies probably
helped this positive tendency, but their characteristics merit further study.


We have also identified a handful of
enlightened small producers in America, Asia and Africa who may have less than
50 cattle each, and who by the careful observation of their environment, have
developed and routinely apply their own successful early warning actions. 

A farmer in Central America -will call him Don Pedro-, routinely moves his cattle uphill and away from the raising river each
October with the full moon. He has never lost an animal to the raging October
river nearby. 

But you are right to imply that these
examples are exceptions rather than the rule.
A significant number of poultry
farms in South America sustain large losses of birds during heat waves combined
with power shortages, every year. Their vulnerability could in theory, be reduced by EWS.
The loses of farm animals by small
farmers in one of the largest island-countries of the Caribbean and due to
flash floods have nearly catastrophic implications for the economies of those
families, year in and year out, so much so, that the Government is actively
seeking training on early warning alternatives for their owners of livestock, to
attempt to reduce their vulnerability and protect their livelihoods. We have a
good history of cooperation and expect to be able to

DM case study Haiti: When a devastating earthquake hit Haiti in 2010 affecting over 3.5
million people, a coalition of animal welfare organisations led by World Animal
Protection worked to ensure that animals were able to recover from such an
emergency, thus helping the people that depend on them.   

Conceptually, one of the biggest hurdles for the
success of early warning systems for livestock may well be the knowledge, understanding,
interest, commitment and resolve of all stakeholders in the farm animal
business, -and each of these concepts comes after the other-.

 Local -municipal- governments first,
animal science, veterinary professionals & agriculture officials second,
and finally animal owners, have for the last decade been left outside the
efforts of promoting a culture of preparedness.


The “translation” and adaptation of the HFA mission to the needs and
language of the owners of livestock and the farm animal industry is and will be
the cornerstone of food security and livelihood protection in many countries in
Latin America, in short, of the survival of our people.


With this in mind, we are currently working on simple and cheap solutions to install early warning schemes to drastically reduce the impact of
hurricanes and typhoons on rural farmers and their livestock around the world, focused for the time
being on agriculture officials in Asia and the communities they serve.


The Philippines Case Study: In November 2013, Typhoon Haiyan impacted The Philippines leaving
behind a path of destruction. In order to improve ability of small farm animal
producers to face the catastrophic effects of typhoons, World Animal Protection
created a typhoon-resistant model farm and provided training to local
veterinarians to create the capacity for an early warning system.

We are finally giving the finishing touches to a pilot online
course for the Latin American federation of veterinary schools -starting in Mexico first- and focused on risk
reduction and climate change adaptation for animals that will hopefully help  improve the profile of the veterinary profession.


I hope these concepts and ideas shed some
light on to your question.
I probably should have answered in