Tuesday, June 29, 2010

West Africa's Drought-Stricken Cattle Too Weak to Survive Rain

It's been widely known that the cattle herds on which the people of West Africa's Sahel region depend have been hit hard by global warming-driven drought. Now the United Nations Humanitarian Affairs office reports that the impacts of that drought have left a lot of the cattle unable to survive the rains that have recently arrived.

Sudden temperature change, the physiological demands on the digestive system of changing from a fodder to a grass diet, and water-borne diseases are always taxing for the cattle. “Since the animals are already extremely weak, many are expected to die with the first rains,” said NGO Action Against Hunger’s (ACF) West Africa regional representative Patricia Hoorelbeke.

Cattle were hit by last year’s drought, which left the country with limited grazing land and caused the price of animal feed to soar, making it unaffordable for subsistence farmers.

Hoorelbeke said the most at-risk animals - cows and sheep - were also the Sahel’s most common. Camels and goats are generally more resilient and more likely to survive the first rains.


LMA said...

Pathetic creatures. Why are cows and sheep being raised in West Africa when they are unable to withstand drought? Just another example of humans tinkering with the natural order, and other species paying the price.

The Mound of Sound said...

LMA, the people of the Sahel are pastoral nomads. Herding has been their way of life, of subsistence, for centuries. The only reason they were able to keep at it that long was that their region until recently enjoyed a fairly reliable climate that furnished adequate grazing. WE have taken that from them and, like most of the early climate change victims, they're among the world's poorest so their options to adapt are limited at best. They didn't "tinker with the natural order", we did. They just get to pay the price for it.

As I said, the people of the Sahel are just the beginning. You can expect to see a lot more of this and a lot worse pretty much for the rest of your life if the climate scientists are right and we remain governed by the unscrupulous like Harper and Iggy.

LMA said...

Agreed, these poor people, as well as their herds, are victims of climate change and are paying the price for our excessive consumption. However, they might have had a better chance of survival had they stuck to camels and goats which are native species and more drought tolerant. Wasn't a similar story played out on the western plains when buffalo were replaced with cows who require shelter to survive the winters?

Okie said...

Meanwhile, here in the West the cattle continue to be herded into the cities where their dependence grows. As does their thirst for stuff.

The Mound of Sound said...

LMA, your logic on this is flawed and that leads to skewed value judgments. Camels are no substitute for cattle. They have built their society, their economy on nomadic herding and it hardly lies in the mouth of any of us to suggest they would be so much better "if only" they'd opted for camels.

In tort law there is a causation issue, the "but for" test. It helps decide questions of liability. "But for" us, the intensely carbonized West, these people would be able to live their lives in their time-honoured fashion. What has befallen them is OUR responsibility and ours alone.

As I said,the climate change we're seeing - the floods, the droughts, the heatwaves - lies at the feet of the major emitters. Not all of the contributing factors are the responsibility of the West - overfishing, deforestation and others can be common failures - but we do have to own the warming problem. It's ours.

LMA said...

I was wrong to state that camels are native to Africa. On reading Wikipedia on the Sahel, I have learned that native grazing species that were adapted to long standing drought conditions in the Sahel, e.g., the oryx, were wiped out long ago by hunting and loss of habitat due to farming. I would call this tinkering with the natural order, wouldn't you?

Over population, deforestation and agriculture have all conspired to rob nomadic herders such as the Tuarags (BTW, originally camel herders) of grazing lands. Climate change will probably make these lands inhabitable for either man or beast.

I don't subscribe to the belief that humans have a god given right to dominate the planet. Other species have just as much a right to live on earth as we do. It troubles me a great deal that humans believe we have first right to resources, and treat other species as objects for our use. To continue to raise cows where they have no chance of surviving droughts to me is totally illogical, selfish and cruel. Camels would probably do no better in the coming heat waves and droughts of climate change.

Our arrogance as a species, our belief that we have the right to dominate the planet to me are at the root of our destruction of the environment, whether it be through climate change, deforestation, overpopulation, overfishing, or over consumption of energy and resources.

If my values are skewed, so be it.

LMA said...

Just wanted to add that perhaps we are both concerned about two aspects of the same issue, i.e., the terrible inequities in the world today. You were referring to the fact that the lives of poor people in the developing countries are being unjustly affected by climate change resulting from the excesses of the developed countries. I was referring to the fact that other species are also unjustly affected by climate change and other ills resulting from human development.

I must admit, these days I am preoccupied with the destruction of life and biodiversity in the Gulf of Mexico. I do appreciate and mostly agree with your point of view, and always enjoy your posts.