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FAO warns threat of animal diseases epidemic

The livelihoods of millions of vulnerable people in Southern Africa are threatened by the spread of Transboundary Animal Diseases (TADs), the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) warned in a statement on Friday.

TADs such as Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD) and Contagious Bovine Pleuropneumonia are having a "devastating impact" across Southern Africa - a region that is already battling a catastrophic combination of food shortages, malnutrition, HIV/AIDS, and poverty.

In response, FAO is supporting the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in launching a joint emergency programme aimed at curbing the spread of these diseases.

"This project will play a crucial role in protecting the livelihoods of millions of vulnerable people in Southern Africa, given that around 75 percent of cattle in SADC member states are held by small-holding families," said Graham Farmer, FAO's Regional Emergency Coordinator for Southern Africa. "It will also help to support the fragile recovery that has been made in some districts, and provide hope for the future for some of the region's most vulnerable communities".

The SADC/FAO Transboundary Animal Diseases (TAD) Emergency Appeal has two components - a US $14 million immediate emergency response, to be followed by a subsequent recovery phase costing $12 million.

The emergency component includes operational support from FAO and focuses primarily on FMD, involving three million cattle in Zimbabwe, 100,000 in Malawi and 150,000 in Mozambique. Measures will also be taken to control Contagious Bovine Pleuropneumonia (CBPP), involving 900,000 in the Angola/Zambia border area and a further 1.35 million cattle around the Tanzania/Zambia border area, the FAO statement said.

Working with national veterinary services, the appeal addresses the issue of TADs by control through repairs to fences that segregate cattle and wildlife, in particular buffalo. It also includes a more effective enforcement of movement control, disease search, and a vaccination campaign, FAO noted. The agency called for urgent donor financial support to avert a major region-wide epidemic.

"The livestock sector is extremely important in the SADC region, since it accounts for some 20 to 40 percent of the agricultural GDP," SADC Executive Secretary Dr Prega Ramsamy was quoted as saying. "Recently the region has experienced severe and persistent droughts, which have put pressure on livestock. In addition, a chronic shortage of resources and social changes (including land disputes), on top of the crippling HIV and AIDS pandemic, have reduced people's capacity to cope with outbreaks of these diseases."

Botswana lost export earnings of $35 million as a result of an FMD outbreak last year. Zimbabwe is estimated to be losing around $50 million per year due to the export ban in place because of FMD, while abattoirs are closing and staff are being retrenched, adding to the country's soaring unemployment rate. Many of the export cattle are sourced from small-scale farmers, so there is immediate impact on household economies. An estimated 60 percent of the SADC population is dependent on livestock.

"Without sufficient funding, countries in Southern Africa will not be able to curb these diseases, and tens of thousands of families will see their most precious assets wiped out. This will leave them destitute and dependent on far more costly international aid for their survival," said Farmer. "By supporting this appeal, the international community can help local communities in Southern Africa cope with the current crisis, and hope for a better future."

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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