KFAR SHUBA, Lebanon: On the outskirts of the southern village of Kfar Shuba, Ismail Nasser herds his goats – healthy beneficiaries of veterinary care provided by UNIFIL’s Indian contingent in south Lebanon.
The contingent’s work in the southern district of Hasbaya stretches beyond the implementation of U.N. Resolution 1701 to operating mobile veterinary clinics that reach 10 villages. Dozens of shepherds guiding their herds through the mountainous territory benefit from the unit’s veterinary services.
Nasser, who inherited his trade from his great grandfather, addresses his herd of around 500 goats using a language only the shepherd understands. The herd queen – the dominant female of the group – leads the other goats to pasture, with a bell ringing around her neck, until they reach a grazing ground near Kfar Shuba.
Like many shepherds, Nasser cannot pay the costs for local veterinarians when one of his goats falls ill.
“We cannot afford going to a local veterinarian, so we seek the help of the veterinarians working with the Indian contingent,” Nasser explains.
“The goats sometimes have problems giving birth, so the Indian veterinarians help them through natural delivery or even Caesarean section,” he adds.
The veterinary services target shepherds like Nasser with daily visits to the herd’s grazing grounds. From the mobile clinics, the vets examine the animals and treat them with medications.
Samer Thiab, also a shepherd from Kfar Shuba with a herd of goats and a cattle farm, says that the Indian vets do weekly checkups on his animals.
“We tell them which goats are sick after they show certain symptoms like inability to walk or a fever,” he explains.
“Also in emergency cases [the veterinarian] comes here and provides free services as we cannot carry the sick goat or cow to a private veterinarian because it’s far away – around 20 kilometers – and the cost is high. Treatment costs a minimum of LL100,000.”
Thiab says that the Indian veterinarians indulge his herds with such effective treatment, including injections and seasonal vaccinations every six months to prevent them from falling ill.
The veterinary unit operates with the help of Lebanese translators to communicate with the shepherds.
“We listen carefully to the shepherds and translate to the veterinarian. In order to diagnose the sickness you have to be very careful to translate correctly,” translator Mohammad Barakat says.
Col. Rakesh Sharma, one of the veterinarians from the Indian contingent, is busy preparing medication for a very sick goat. He administers an anti-inflammatory injection to quieten the goat’s pained bleating.
Sharma, who has been a veterinarian for 14 years, is happy to apply his skills abroad.
“I decided to become a veterinarian because I lived in India where there are lots of animals. This profession is highly respected in our country because 70 percent of Indian people come from villages where they rely on animals to make a living,” Sharma says.
“This is the first time I’ve worked outside India. And in general, animal diseases are similar across the world. We can treat sickness here very easily,” he adds.
The veterinarians tour villages and grazing pastures five days per week, examining the animals and providing the appropriate treatment.
On Saturdays, the veterinarians perform surgeries at a veterinary clinic set up in the contingent’s headquarters in Naqar Kawkaba.
“There are lots of poor shepherds who live outside our field of operations but come to us carrying the sick animal and we’ll perform the needed surgery for them,” Sharma says.
The veterinary team works more than eight hours a day and treats 600 cases a month, he says, apart from emergency surgeries.
Currently, Sharma is completing an instruction manual for local shepherds on medications and treatment. He says that many ask for medications, such as anti-inflammatory injections, not realizing the dangers of overuse.
In addition to administering to the herds, Sharma has vaccinated more than 500 dogs and cats in the area so they cannot pass on diseases to people.
“Our ties with locals are excellent. We address the humanitarian needs of people across 10 villages. We provide veterinary medicine as well as human medicine and dentistry,” says Maj. Sathish Prabhu, the contingent’s civil-military affairs officer.
Prabhu says that the veterinary services are especially appreciated by impoverish shepherds.
“It is not easy for locals to get a veterinarian because you have to pay three times: first for his transportation by car, then for the consultation and finally for the medication to treat the animal. Many shepherds say they prefer to let the animal die than pay the high cost,” he explains.
Aside from the area the contingent is assigned to patrol, UNIFIL command often requests them to provide veterinary services to residents further afield.
“Mayors and mukhtars in villages have the phone numbers of Lebanese translators to call when something urgent happens, who then contact the vets,” Prabhu says.
In return, the shepherds provide UNIFIL with unique assistance.
“The shepherds tend their cattle in valleys and hills and they immediately inform us about any cluster bombs they find. We coordinate with the Lebanese Army to get rid of them, saving lives of humans and cattle alike.”