Geoffrey Dennis, from Sussex, has taken up a new role as the Chief Executive of international charity SPANA and is now calling on the international community to reduce the plight of nearly 200 million donkeys, horses and mules working hard every day across Africa and beyond, emphasising that they are vital to the economic wellbeing of the world’s poorest communities.
One working animal can support the livelihood of an extended family of up to 30 people.
One billion people worldwide are dependent on this hidden workforce of animals for their livelihoods, yet few in the developed world are aware of this extraordinary reliance of so many of the world’s poorest communities.
Horses, donkeys, camels and elephants are doing the job of trucks, tractors and taxis in many of the world’s communities and have been shown to improve the status of women in society and support the education of children.
Without these animals, the lives of women would be radically different since they are tasked to solely transport all the food, water and goods.
“International aid needs ‘complete overhaul’,” says Dennis, former CEO of Royal National Children’s Foundation, reflecting on his extensive experience in the charity sector, international development and disaster and emergency response, having worked in global humanitarian organisations, like Care International UK, the British Red Cross and the International Federation of the Red Cross in North Korea.
Dennis argues that the international community excels in delivering major emergency responses, but the approach is short term – he believes sustainability must be central, from day one.
Another short-term “cause and effect” problem was further highlighted yesterday with the discussion of a rising number of donkeys being exported to China for their skin’s gelatine use in traditional medicines.
The price of a donkey in many parts of Africa has gone up by as much as 450 per cent and while it may seem lucrative in the short-term to sell their family donkey for this high price, when that money runs out they’re left without a sustainable revenue generating asset.
This is why some African governments (for example Niger and Burkino Faso) have now banned it, Dennis says.
Since the families most reliant on animals for their livelihoods are often the most marginalised and vulnerable with few reserves in times of crisis, animal deaths in times of natural disasters, extreme weather and conflicts, become the precursor to famine and humanitarian tragedy if essential veterinary care is missing.
Animal welfare is the key to helping the world’s poorest people escape the aid trap, says Dennis.
SPANA is doing a lot of work on local radio in African countries such as Mali, to relay further, this message.