Why should we protect animals in disasters and what can the EU do?

January 25 2023, Valentyna Vozna,

Ukraine TaskForce Coordinator, Eurogroup for Animals

Russia’s war in Ukraine brought unprecedented consequences not only to the people of Ukraine and food security systems in Europe and worldwide, but also to animals and the environment. Once the war hit the European continent, a lot of actors were willing to help animals and had the resources at their disposal, but their actions were limited mainly because of the lack of information about the current needs of animals in Ukraine, logistical issues and a lack of partners on the ground. This often resulted in fragmented and uncoordinated aid provision and rescue efforts with duplicated efforts, while hampering aid in reaching those most in need (1).

Acknowledging the efforts of the EU and its Member States to help Ukrainian animals, Russia’s war showcased EU’s lack of preparedness to protect animals during a disaster. Various actions could be implemented by the EU to better address the plight of animals during disasters. The immediate solution lies in the legal inclusion of animals in EU disaster law with the aim of involving animal welfare actors in the development of disaster management plans and in a coordinated disaster response mechanism in the EU. In our opinion, the lack of consideration of animals in an official disaster response mechanism substantially undermines any capacity to provide timely and effective aid to animals. The imperative of protecting animals in disasters is broad and encompasses both animals and humans for several reasons. 

  • First, the human-animal bond is a major factor affecting animal owners in disasters (2). People may refuse to evacuate because they do not want to abandon their animals. As a result, public safety may be compromised due to risky human behaviour during evacuation.
  • Second, people’s mental health can be affected by the additional stress provoked by separation from their companion animals. Animals provide emotional support to people regardless of their age during and after disasters (3). This issue becomes especially acute when refugees escape the disaster with their companion animals just to find out that their animals are not allowed in refugee camps or social housing in a safer place. Indeed, unnecessary exposure of people to animals should be avoided, but it is equally important not to cause more pain to already traumatised people.
  • Third, there are economic reasons for protecting animals in disasters. For example, livestock animals play an essential role in the recovery capabilities of the region. Rescuing them is vital to the resilience of the local communities after a disaster and is also cost-effective. Namely, a loss of livestock for a farmer means loss of food security, lost wages of workers and reduced productivity among workers due to psychological trauma (4).
  • Moreover, disasters may lead to increasing populations of free-roaming animals due to abandonment and the inability to evacuate them, possibly posing a public health risk of rabies and other zoonoses. Furthermore, once a disaster has ended animals left without adequate food and water resources also may experience post-traumatic stress disorder (5), which may lead to conflicts at the human-animal level.

We believe that the basis for addressing animals in disasters is their legal inclusion into EU disaster law, which will also lead to inclusion of animal welfare actors into a joint coordinated capacity during the response phase of a disaster, to the alignment of existing efforts for people with those for animals in disasters, to the elaboration of national disaster management plans involving animal experts, the creation of animal-friendly refugee camps in the EU, and many other initiatives. 

Today, the Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (DG ECHO) is responsible for humanitarian assistance and civil protection in the European Union (6). However, the EU humanitarian aid regulation and the Union Civil Protection Mechanism (UCPM) do not cover the provision of food and supplies to animals. The former is aimed exclusively at people (7), and the latter does not ensure any direct aid to animals in practice. The UCPM recognises in its recitals the need to “reduce the vulnerability of animal welfare and wildlife” (8) as part of disaster risk prevention and management, but there is no obligation to cover animals in terms of protection (9). 

The experience of Ukrainian refugees bringing their companion animals with them has highlighted the extent to which these animals are part of their families. Recognising the vital role these animals play in people’s lives could be legal grounds for DG ECHO to extend its protection efforts to companion animals as part of the multispecies family. Other categories of animals should also be legally protected in disasters: the legal grounds to be investigated. 

Animals play an important role in human lives and in rebuilding the community after a disaster, although there is still little acknowledgement of this by policymakers and humanitarian responders. While achieving protection for all species in disasters remains a longer-term goal, the immediate solution lies in the legal inclusion of animals into disaster law in the EU with the aim of involving animal welfare actors in the development of disaster management plans and in a coordinated disaster response mechanism in the EU. We believe there is a great potential for the EU, Member States and NGOs to work together in order to be better prepared for disasters in the long term.


  1. President Zelenskyy official Instagram page (2022) ‘Video of visiting Bucha’. Available from: https://www.instagram.com/tv/Cb8METHA6vl/?igshid=YmMyMTA2M2Y%3D, [accessed 17 August 2022].
  2. Federal Emergency Management Agency (1998) ‘Animals in Disasters. Module A. Unit 2.  Available from: https://training.fema.gov/emiweb/downloads/is10_a-2.pdf.
  3. Chadwin R. (2017) ‘Evacuation of pets during disasters: A public health intervention to increase resilience’. Am J Public Health; 107(9):1413–7. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5551593/.
  4. Campbell R., Knowles T. (2011) ‘The economic impacts of losing livestock in a disaster, a report for the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA)’, Economists at Large, Melbourne, Australia. Available from: https://onlineasdma.assam.gov.in/kmp/pdf/1491459716livestock_disaster_economics.pdf
  5. International Fund for Animal Welfare (2022) ‘Animals, People and War: The Impact of Conflict 2022’. Available from: https://www.ifaw.org/resources/animals-people-war
  6. European Parliament ‘Humanitarian aid’ prepared by Padurariu Amelia. Available from: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/factsheets/en/sheet/164/humanitarian-aid, [accessed 16 August 2022]. 
  7. Council Regulation (EC) No 1257/96 of 20 June 1996. Available from: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/HTML/?uri=CELEX:31996R1257&from=EN.
  8. Decision (EU) 2019/420 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 March 2019 amending Decision No 1313/2013/EU on a Union Civil Protection Mechanism, Article 8. Available from: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/HTML/?uri=CELEX:32019D0420&from=en.
  9. Regulation (EU) 2021/836 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 May 2021 amending Decision No 1313/2013/EU, Article 1, paragraph 2. Available from: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/HTML/?uri=CELEX:32021R0836&from=en#d1e582-1-1