07 Feb. 2008

A Special Day In The ‘Other’ Kabul

ISAF’s Veterinary Surgeons bring aid in the remote areas of the Afghan capital

In Afghanistan, around 85 percent of the population works in the rural economy and for many households livestock and their products are one of the major sources of income.

According to the National Livestock Census conducted in 2003 by FAO – the United Nations Organization for Food and Agriculture – years of conflict and drought have dramatically affected livestock numbers: for example the number of cattle per family has fallen by more than two-thirds, from 3.7 to 1.22 in the past years, while that of sheep dropped to 2.9 from 21.9.

The census shows that there are 3.7 million cattle in Afghanistan, 8.8 million sheep, 7.3 million goats, 1.6 million donkeys, 180,000 camels (horses are nearly as many) and over 12 million poultry.

The Afghan government’s priority is to accelerate the pace of regeneration and in this regard a number of programs supported by the International Community have been initiated to improve local livestock’s health and nutrition. Progress is remarkable although some rural areas haven’t been reached so far by steady veterinary services.

ISAF troops of Regional Command Capital are also aware of the livestock issue: very often the elders of those communities living in the surroundings of Kabul report their concerns about their animals’ health. «Our sheep produce little milk and wool, and in winter time we lose plenty of them because of the low temperature», they tell ISAF’s patrols visiting remote villages.

Patrols’ reports end up on the desk of the veterinary surgeons serving in Regional Command Capital Battlegroups. One of them is an experienced specialist in big animals and is the head of the Italian Army’s Veterinary Hospital, and has a sensible approach to the problem: why not join patrols and provide basic health assistance to local livestock? The idea is probably not new but is certainly good, especially for those rural areas that are difficult to access, due to the poor state of roads. The vets fill their bags with hundreds of anti-parasites medications and antibiotics and join the patrols in their routine operations conducted jointly with the Afghan National Security Forces.

The picture looks always the same: a warm welcome by the Malik (the head of the village), the vet is introduced to him and here we go! Everybody in the village is somehow puzzled by the doctor-who-treats-animals: never seen before, a guy like that. Many children lead small herds of 4-5 sheep to the ‘clinic’, an open space on the bed of a dry river where the vets have setup his very peculiar surgery.

A small crowd attends the operations: the vet and his assistants wear gloves and begin to work. One by one, numbers of goats, sheep, donkeys and cows are visited and treated, possibly for the first time in their lives. A wide use of internal and external anti-parasites is used: this treatment alone will allow the animals to gain weight and to produce 30% more milk or wool for the next four months.

Goats and sheep are good patients, while donkeys are sometimes reluctant to receive health care and the vet needs more than one hand to carry out his job. The interpreter translates word for word the advice given to each owner before dismissing ‘patients’: caution at watering sites, and bear hygiene in mind. “See you in four months, then” (with a different treatment, to avoid tolerance by parasites). Things that may appear banal to western minds but not to young Zainullah (fifteen year old), who spends his days between school and attending his  two ‘gua’ (cow, in Pashtu): he’s more than amazed while learning that he might get more than six liters per day, enough for his family and a surplus to be traded at the bazaar.

In the last 30 days, ISAF’s veterinary teams operating in the region of Kabul treated over 1,500 animals. Health benefits will appear soon, while those in terms of consensus are immediately available. Providing security and assistance is a complex mission, for the two issues are often intertwined. One of ISAF’s tenets states that there can be no development without security and that – on the long run – no real security is achievable without economic and social progress.

After their tour in Kabul, the military vets have accumulated many impressions and many ideas: to initiate collaborations with local veterinary surgeons, or to take samples from animals and conduct small scale surveys of those remote areas and forward them to the Afghan Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock. One Italian University (where one of the vets in uniform graduated a long time ago…) offered to donate basic training packages and laboratory instruments. Small leaps towards the good direction, bearing in mind the golden paradigm: ‘no development without security, no security without development’…

(by Captain Mario Renna – Chief of Regional Command Capital Public Affairs Office)

Contact Information ISAF Public Information Office
Tel: +93 (0)79 51 1155 - Mobile: 0093 (0) 799 55 8291 pressoffice@hq.isaf.nato.int - www.nato.int/isaf/