Extending One Health To Animal Disaster Management
The One Health framework was initially developed in response to increasing infectious diseases at the turn of the 21st century. In general, One Health is the belief that the health of humans, animals, and the environment are fundamentally linked and that public health threats require integrated, collaborative expertise. The authors of this paper argue that the One Health framework can be used more broadly in disaster management and discuss how this framework would function.
The recent rise in natural disasters such as floods, droughts, and the COVID-19 pandemic have made it increasingly clear that the welfare of humans and animals are linked, even in disaster management. A One Health animal disaster management (OHADM) framework combines ethics and science to address major disasters in a more equitable way. The authors argue that the OHADM framework can inform the disaster management cycle at various phases:
- Planning: In this stage, experts ensure they act proactively to identify and mitigate against potential disasters. It’s important to include animals and species-specific knowledge in disease monitoring and other procedures.
- Prevention: The prevention stage involves stopping disasters before they take place. Including animals means accounting for them in city infrastructure and making sure they’re considered in any threat removal plans.
- Mitigation: When disasters can’t be prevented, experts try to mitigate their impacts. Under an OHADM framework, legislation can ensure that resources are directed to help animals as well as people.
- Preparedness: In this stage, experts are trained to ensure they respond efficiently and effectively to disasters. Experts should be educated about animals and their needs, and the public should be informed about animal welfare issues during disasters.
- Response: When disasters strike, responders should consider animal welfare assessments. Rather than treating animals as “disease carriers,” animals should be given more ethical consideration alongside humans.
- Recovery: After disasters occur, animals’ physical and psychological needs should be considered as experts pick up the pieces and explore how society is vulnerable to future threats.
One goal that OHADM emphasizes is something called “interspecies relational solidarity.” This involves understanding how humans are fundamentally connected, both to each other and to other animals. As part of this, it’s important to account for society’s most vulnerable members in disaster management. Disadvantaged human and animal groups deserve equitable access to disaster management experts.
Importantly, such an approach also encourages us to examine our existing prejudices. For example, many people became fearful and discriminatory against animals in the early stages of COVID-19 due to a lack of information about how the disease spreads. Considering animals during times of disaster would allow us to build disaster management systems that do not sustain or perpetuate systemic problems such as prioritizing certain animals (e.g., companion animals) over others (e.g., animals used for human consumption or entertainment or wild animals). So, relying on an OHADM framework can encourage a more just disaster management system that cares for both human and animal welfare.
OHADM also encourages people to approach disaster management with an “ethics of care” approach. This is a belief that caring for others is a basic moral necessity, and that relationships should be grounded in nurturing. The authors suggest that due to our interdependent relationships with animals, we are responsible to extend our ethics of care to them. One way this would manifest is by having preparedness plans that reduce the burden of decision-making on the first responders. This would mean that animal care and welfare becomes a shared responsibility between responders, caretakers, and official services. It would also mean informing the public about the OHADM plans in their communities, and what to expect from experts.
Knowing that some animals are structurally more vulnerable than others can help disaster managers plan and respond in ways that maximize animal welfare. The authors give the example of companion animals compared to farmed animals. Farmed animals and farmers are usually at higher risk of being negatively influenced by disasters than companion animals and their caretakers. Instead of perpetuating such inequalities, the OHADM framework would suggest focusing on reducing the vulnerabilities that some animals face disproportionately (by, for instance, building farms in areas that are less likely to be affected by a flood).
Lastly, the authors discuss some challenges of applying One Health strategies to animal disaster management. Most notably, society tends to be human-centered in its ethical reasoning, especially when the needs of humans and animals are seemingly in conflict. As a solution, the authors suggest that we be mindful of our ethical commitment to animals before a disaster. The OHADM would shift the focus away from humans as caretakers of animals and instead promote humans and animals as dependent on each other. Instead of an “us” or “them” mindset, social norms must be shifted to an “all-for-one and one-for-all” approach.
The authors conclude by saying that centering animal welfare in disaster management requires systematic change. Such change would need to focus on how humans relate to animals at every level (e.g., how we care for and house animals in many different contexts). Animal advocates can help by reminding people of our shared connectedness with animals, our responsibilities toward them, and the benefits to humans and animals if we prioritize their welfare and protection.