December 8, 2021
Projected increases in human and animal displacement driven by climate change, disasters and related environmental degradation will have significant implications to global health. Pathways for infectious disease transmission including zoonoses, diseases transmitted between animals and humans, are complex and non-linear. While forced migration is considered an important driver for the spread of zoonoses, actual disease dynamics remain under researched. This paper presents the findings of a case study investigating how disaster displacement affected zoonotic disease transmission risk following the 2010 'superfloods' in Sindh province, Pakistan. We interviewed 30 key informants and 17 household members across 6 rural communities between March and November 2019, supported by observational studies and a review of secondary data. Results were analysed using the ecosocial theoretical framework. Buffalo, cattle and goats were often the only moveable asset, therefore livestock was an important consideration in determining displacement modality and destination location, and crowded locations were avoided to protect human and animal health. Meanwhile however, livestock was rarely included in the humanitarian response, resulting in communities and households fragmenting according to the availability of livestock provisions. We found that rather than a driver for disease, displacement acted as a process affecting community, household and individual zoonotic disease risk dynamics, based on available resources and social networks before, during and after displacement, rooted in the historical, political and socio-economic context. We conclude that in rural Sindh, disaster displaced populations' risk of zoonoses is the result of changes in dynamics rooted in pre-existing structural and chronic inequalities, making people more or less vulnerable to disease through multiple interlinked pathways. Our findings have implications for policy makers and humanitarian responders assisting displaced populations dependent on livestock, with a call to integrate livestock support in humanitarian policies and responses for health, survival and recovery.