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Livestock interventions in disasters: new ways to improve response – the Livestock Emergency Guidelines and Standards (LEGS)

Time (GMT +01) 11:30 13:00

Simon Mack - Senior Animal Production Officer, Food and Agriculture Organisation and member of the LEGS Steering Group

Tim Leyland
- Agriculture Research Team, UK Department for International Development

Wendy Fenton - Coordinator, Humanitarian Practice Network

Wendy Fenton, Coordinator, Humanitarian Practice Network

  1. Fenton welcomed everyone and introduced the panellist, Simon Mack (FAO and LEGS steering group) and Tim Leyland (DfID). She encouraged people to buy the newly released Livestock Emergency Guidelines and Standards published by Practical Action Publishing (http://www.developmentbookshop.org) and to pick up a free copy of the HPN Network Paper 64 which contains a number of interesting case studies on livelihoods-based livestock programming.

Simon Mack, Food and Agriculture Organisation and LEGS Steering Group

2.       Mack has been involved in the development of Livestock Emergency Guidelines and Standards (LEGS) from the start. He explained that LEGS is more than just a book containing a set of standards, but will comprise of decision support tools, comprehensive training material, practical (how to do it) manuals, an information resource base and an email/telephone support function. Plans are underway to translate LEGS into French, Arabic, and either Spanish or Portuguese.

3.       An estimated one billion poor people depend on livestock for their livelihoods to some degree. In pastoral and agro-pastoral communities this dependency is high but even in small-scale mixed farming systems and subsistence agriculture, livestock make significant contribution to livelihoods as a source of income/barter, food, fuel, fertilizer, transport or as a social asset. 

4.       Funds allocated to humanitarian relief interventions are substantial and programmes often include a livestock component. The focus however is often on the animal per se – rather than how they contribute to their owner’s livelihood.

5.       It was noted that livestock are affected by all types of emergencies including slow onset (droughts etc), rapid onset (cyclones, floods, earthquakes, etc), or complex/linked conflict (like Sudan, Somalia, Gaza and the West Bank).

6.       LEGS evolved from a group of livestock specialists and relief agencies who were concerned over the quality and appropriateness of many of the livestock relief projects they were seeing. Interventions were often inappropriate, poorly implemented, based on little or no analysis and timely delivery was often an issue. Local capacity and services tended to be overlooked or, worse, undermined and impact assessments or evaluations were rare. There was also a real disconnect between humanitarian and development programming.

7.       The LEGS steering group was formed in 2006 and remains responsible for overseeing the LEGS process and future development. Members are drawn from the following organizations: VSF-Belgium (a member of VSF Europa), Feinstein International Center (Tufts University), African Union, FAO and ICRC. The steering group used the process in developing the Sphere Handbook as a model as it was inclusive, encouraged a wide range of consultation and involvement, was unbranded, and supported by numerous donors. It is hoped that this approach will help LEGS become a reference point for livestock emergency response interventions in the same way that Sphere has been for humanitarian interventions. It is possible that the second edition of LEGS might become a Sphere companion module.

8.       Mack explained that LEGS is aimed at humanitarian practitioners who have to deal with livestock, but who have very little livestock experience, and also livestock specialists who have a limited emergency programming background. Policy-makers and development partners are also seen as potential beneficiaries of LEGS. Its coverage is global; it is applicable to all types of emergencies (not just drought) and to all livestock production systems (not just pastoralism). LEGS does not cover the major trans-boundary animal diseases – these are adequately covered elsewhere – nor does it include companion animals. The majority of interventions cited are evidence-based and it stresses coordination within and between other sectors. More information on the consultation process and soft copies of LEGS and the decision support tools are available at: www.livestock-emergency.net.

9.       LEGS has three guiding principles: 1) providing rapid assistance to crisis-affected communities through livestock-based interventions; 2) protecting the key livestock assets of crisis-affected communities; and 3)assisting in the rebuilding of key livestock assets among crisis-affected communities.

10.   It contains general chapters on livestock-based livelihoods responses in emergencies; assessment and response methods; minimum common standards and cross-cutting issues such as gender and HIV/AIDs. There are separate chapters for each of the major interventions namely: destocking, veterinary services, ensuring feed supplies, provision of water, shelter and restocking, as well as checklists, decision trees, assessment matrices and a bibliography.

11.   During the last year the steering group also focused on creating awareness of LEGS (with DFID support) through a series of seminars and workshops throughout Africa, Asian and Europe.

12.   An agreed two year post-launch phase will include: supporting the core functions of LEGS (website, steering group, help facility); the translation of LEGS into French, Arabic and Spanish/Portuguese; preparation of training kits and training of trainers in six sub-regions in Africa and Asia. A real time evaluation of specific interventions is also planned which will be fed back into future editions of LEGS. To date DFID and ECHO have generously committed themselves to fund these activities.

Tim Leyland, Agriculture Research Team, UK Department for International Development (DfID)

  1. Leyland welcomed the LEGS initiative. When he worked for the African Union, he constantly received requests from NGOs and government departments asking for guidance on livestock programming in emergencies. A lack of resources meant that these calls for help were largely ignored, which resulted in all sorts of ‘off the wall’ responses being implemented.

  1. DfID funded some initial LEGS activities and CHASE (its humanitarian section) is supporting the roll out process. However, tensions exist within DfID (and other donor organisations) with regards finding the right balance between saving lives versus supporting people’s livelihoods. The LEGS project falls into the latter category. It is about doing relief in a way that supports longer term development. This has implications in terms of funding because it can be difficult to gauge ‘which pot to go for’ when submitting proposals for these kinds of projects.

  1. Specifically within the development section of DfID there is another tension: livestock are seen as being very bad – they destroy the environment and cause obesity and poor health. Unlike in the humanitarian section, there has been little buy-in to the fact that livestock can help support people’s lives and get them back on their feet after an emergency. This thinking is slowly shifting and was pushed up the agenda because of last year’s food prices spike.

  1. CHASE supports LEGS because it aims to improve the effectiveness of humanitarian response which is one of DfID key guiding principles. The initiative also aligns well with DfID’s efforts to design better, more context specific and timely programmes. Moreover, through the effective risk management strategies it includes, LEGS helps reduce risk and extreme vulnerability – another priority. These standards and guidelines are also evidenced-based which is refreshing because the humanitarian community has often been weak in this respect.

A question and answer and discussion session followed which covered the following issues:


To what extent is disaster preparedness included?

One of the LEGS common standards focuses specifically on contingency planning and preparation.

How confident are you that the electronic decision tools will be used by your target audience?

It is hoped that the right people will take advantage these simple-to-use resources – although a lot will depend on the success of the training and the awareness raising activities. What is particularly useful about these tools is that they make people ‘ask the right questions’ and then highlight the implications of particular actions or decisions.

Do you think that key staff in ministries should be trained?

Yes and this is already happening in some countries. Training of trainers is the priority in the post-launch phase and will include participants from both the public and private sectors.

Humanitarian workers do not have the technical expertise in this area. There is a real need to draw people from veterinary or agricultural science backgrounds.

This is the case for some aspects of livestock interventions but not all. Emergency destocking, for example, is much more about logistics and community engagement.

Is LEGS seeking formal endorsement from NGOs and/or some sort of membership system?

A number of international NGOs have been closely involved in developing LEGS. Seeking formal endorsement could be a way of gaining further buy in from many others. Nothing has been done as yet although it will be reviewed by the steering group.

LEGS addresses technical questions but leaves out the politics. Can you comment?

This issue came up at the EC meeting as well and you’re right, policy-makers are unlikely to read LEGS. One option to be considered could be to include information directly targeted at policy makers as part of the LEGS package.

These standards and guidelines are a great contribution to the sector but more work must be done to look at underlying political causes of repetitive disasters. Droughts in the Horn are often perpetuated by certain policies. Should a group be brought together to address the constraints of relief and development divide?

This is an interesting idea and perhaps the LEGS website could be developed as an interactive forum to facilitate such discussions and to host other non-LEGS related and appropriate sources of information.

General points

  • LEGS makes good links with the humanitarian world but must do more to connect with development practitioners. This could be done by cross-referencing referenced key development resources in future LEGS editions.
  • NGOs should be encouraged to develop tailored in-house training based on these guidelines.
  • LEGS could maximise its impact by integrating itself into a number of other processes including work on early warning systems, WFP’s classification project, and the EC’s food security policy update. Links with WFP are particularly important because they are often the first ones into an emergency.
  • There is a need to develop and implement a broad communication strategy to maximise the uptake of LEGS especially within the humanitarian and development communities and by policy makers.


Millions of families in the developing world rely on their livestock for their income, as well as their food. But today, both livestock and humans are threatened by increases in natural disasters, such as floods and droughts, as a result of climate change. Emergency relief operations often include a livestock component to protect this precious asset but, to date, there have been no widely-available guidelines to help donors, programme managers or technical experts design or implement the necessary measures.

This Humanitarian Practice Network meeting launched a new book to help fill this gap. The Livestock Emergency Guidelines and Standards (LEGS) have been developed by a multi-agency team as a set of international guidelines and standards to support livelihoods-based livestock interventions in emergencies. Published by Practical Action Publishing, LEGS follows the same format as the Sphere handbook and is based on broad consultation with practitioners and policy makers worldwide. Simon Mack, Senior Animal Production Officer at the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and member of the LEGS Steering Group, highlighted the importance of livestock and other assets linked to livelihoods in responding to emergencies, and describes how the (LEGS) Project supports this process. He emphasised the need to build the capacity of humanitarian actors to plan and intervene, and explain how LEGS can support the evaluation of emergency responses. Tim Leyland of the UK Department for International Development (DFID) acted as a discussant, and Wendy Fenton, HPN Coordinator, chaired.