Livelihood and livestock after the Nepal earthquake

Nepal has undergone massive changes in the last 19 days. The Himalayan country has experienced two big earthquakes and many aftershocks. Half of the country is directly affected. People are in panic as aftershocks still continue today. Houses and other buildings are either cracked or flattened both in the capital and countryside. Undulated roads, blocked by continuous landslides, are making remote transport risky. Health and education systems are paralysed. More than 8,000 people died and more than 17,000 people are wounded. A huge number of livestock trapped under rubble and shaken ground is going to impact livelihood. Many tourists have also lost their lives and those who survived have left Nepal. Tourism is at its worst state. People are living in pain after losing everything and are psychologically down.  The earthquake’s effect in Nepal has many dimensions. What will happen to the livelihood of people?

Two thirds of people in Nepal depend on agriculture for their livelihood. Integrated type of farming system comprising crop cultivation and animal farming is badly affected by current earthquakes. Three fourths of the country is either high mountains or hills. These mountains are badly shaken by current earthquakes and landslides have become common. The landslide phenomenon may intensify with the monsoon expected next month.  Much of the cultivable land in these mountains and hills is going to be lost. People are busy now erecting temporary shelter for their families. Main crop plantation season is approaching along with the expectation of the monsoon next month. Most of the farming families have also lost their oxen and bullock used for ploughing. Will they be able to reap food from their lands for their families this year?

The collapse of mud houses in rural areas has not only caused human causalities but a large number of animals are also dead or wounded. Details of the data, on how many animals died or became unproductive, are expected from the government but around a million small and large ruminants are estimated to be affected. This is going to be reflected through reduced milk and meat production; less animals for ploughing; and less income to rural farm families. Another important aspect of animal loss is less manure for crops. Animal manure is the only fertiliser available in the remote hills. A big setback for the rural farming system can be imagined as the country faces these issues.

Death of animals in large numbers and their improper and unhygienic disposal is thought to contaminate the soil and water. It is matter of concern as the monsoon is due next month. Chances of disease outbreak such as Haemorrhagic Septicaemia, Black Quarter disease and Foot and Mouth disease cannot be ruled out. Living closely with livestock as proper shelter for human and animals is scarce, may also help spread zoonotic diseases. Access to a quality animal health service in the near future is questionable as most of the animal health centre buildings have collapsed during the earthquakes.

Animal and agriculture markets are badly affected because of damaged roads. Feed, veterinary medicine and other supply to rural area is curtailed because of this. Products like milk cannot be brought to sell in urban areas. This is going to be a negative message for dairy farmers. The country’s growing dairy production is facing a big risk. The loosened soil may result in heavy landslides and block many roads while reducing the livelihoods of poor rural livestock keepers.

There are many dimensions of earthquake effects in Nepal and the government will first focus on the most pressing issues related to human lives. Chances to get less attention to livelihood and agriculture cannot be ruled out. Any support to help farmers build livestock sheds and provide animal health care can guide livelihood back on track.