August 16, 2023 – In the aftermath of devastating wildfires that claimed the lives of a still unknown number of people on Maui, we mourn with our supporters and colleagues in Hawaii. As with most disasters, the loss of human life and the financial and other damages incurred by individuals, governments, businesses and institutions are being reported in painful, sobering detail. While animal casualties are difficult to measure, it’s likely the toll is significant.
Thankfully, local organizations such as the Maui Humane Society and Hawaii Veterinary Medical Association are working with others to find animal survivors and give them a fighting chance. We’re sending pet food and crates to the Maui Humane Society, and we’re discussing other options for support with local organizations.
Maui isn’t the only crisis zone. Last month, wildfires in Greece prompted the country’s largest-ever wildfire evacuation order. We sent emergency funds to Greece to bolster the local capacity in their response efforts.
Extreme flooding in several locations around the globe is also putting people and animals in danger. Our HSI/India team rushed to the aid of companion animals and farm animals in Delhi and Telangana as rising water decimated grazing lands and food supplies. Our partners in China, Vshine and Capital Animal Welfare Association (CAWA), answered the call for urgent rescue when rapid floods left hundreds of dogs and cats marooned on rooftops and in trees, their shelters washed away by the crushing waves.
Helping communities in the face of these tragedies can require both immediate and long-term help. We work with our partners to assess needs; sometimes it’s in the form of a grant, supplies or logistics and other times it’s deploying our Animal Rescue Teams to add boots on the ground. Whatever form our support takes, it’s always with the goal of supporting the needs of the animals and our partners working tirelessly to save them.
It has been six months since earthquakes destroyed parts of Türkiye and Syria. Thanks to your support, we were able to deploy a series of disaster response teams to Antakya, Türkiye, an entire city left completely unrecognizable after the quakes. Working alongside local veterinarians, we were able to conduct search and rescue operations throughout the city, and beyond, as needed, to recover trapped, lost and injured pets. Those efforts were intense and critical, but we know from experience that once that phase is over, the needs do not necessarily end. The earthquakes left a vacuum of basic services, including veterinary care. We’re continuing to work with the local vets and staff who are committed to serving their displaced communities.
Natural hazards are occurring with greater frequency, geographical scope and intensity, which means it’s urgent to prepare governments and communities now with action plans that could save people and animals. Wildfires in Canada throughout the summer sent suffocating smoke and created poor air quality over great distances, and more than 1,100 firefighters are currently battling a blaze in Portugal. NASA reported that July 2023 was the hottest month ever on record. A recent report from the United Nations Environment Programme and GRID-Arenal stated that extreme fires are expected to increase globally by 50% by 2100.
Healing from such tragedies takes far more time than the stories remain in the headlines. We’re pushing ourselves harder to support recovery efforts beyond the initial rescue phase, and we’re striving to help communities and governments prepare long before the sirens ring. We know we can’t always stop the flame or flood, but we hope that by working together, we can reduce suffering and loss of life. Your support not only allows us to rush to a crisis when we’re needed, but also to stay as long as we can help.
Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States and CEO of Humane Society International, the international affiliate of the HSUS. www.humanesociety.org
Follow Kitty Block @HSUSKittyBlock.