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Top official issues bird flu warning

Some 600,000 families that depend on poultry for their livelihood will face big losses, according to Yemen’s Ministry of Agriculture.
(Muhammad al-Jabri/IRIN)

The General Department for Animal Resources (GDAR) at Yemen’s Ministry of Agriculture says it is worried about the potential for an outbreak of bird flu, but has at the same time warned that its resources and capacity are limited.

As a first precautionary measure against bird flu, Yemen has banned imports of poultry products from Saudi Arabia, which recently culled 90,000 birds after the lethal H5N1 strain of bird flu was detected in a poultry farm. Yemen imports about 60 percent of its poultry products from Saudi Arabia, according to Ghaleb al-Eryani, director-general of the GDAR.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the H5N1 strain first emerged in Asia in 2003, and has so far caused some 205 deaths in humans.

Al-Eryani told IRIN his department had received several reports from citizens and farmers over the past few days. “Two days ago, a local citizen reported to us that 8,000 chickens had died on his poultry farm which had 10,000 chickens. Despite limited resources, we took samples for laboratory tests,” he said.

Surveillance work halted

However, al-Eryani said that because of limited resources his department could not do much. It had already stopped bird flu surveillance work for some months now.

Photo: Muhammad al-Jabri/IRIN
Ghaleb al-Eryani, general director of the GDAR, says his department lacks funding to deal with possible brid flu outbreaks

“Over the past seven months, the surveillance team and operation room responsible for bird flu surveillance have stopped working because of financial problems. The Ministry of Finance has not paid the budget for the surveillance work, for which the cabinet had assigned 50 million riyals (US$ 250,000). The budget is meant for bird flu surveillance in Yemen‘s governorates,” he said.

Al-Eryani said surveillance teams in the governorates were not working as they had not been paid and had lost trust in his department.

According to him, Yemen recently received a US$1 million donation from the World Bank to help the country prepare for any possible outbreak of bird flu.

“An expert from the Bank visited us 9-16 November and was not happy when he learnt that the [bird flu] surveillance programme had been halted due to financial problems. The Bank threatened to withdraw the donation if the problem was not solved,” he added.

Livelihoods at risk

Experts at the GDAR say Yemen, especially its coastal areas, is a crossing point for migratory birds from Africa and Europe. During winter a bird flu outbreak is likely to occur in Yemen as migratory birds from Europe pass over Yemen to seek warmer climes in Africa, they told IRIN.

Al-Eryani warned that the private sector could be affected by any outbreak. “Some 600,000 families that depend on poultry for their livelihood will face big losses,” he said.

He said the trade in live birds posed a threat that could affect millions of people: “They move poultry from farms to markets, and from one governorate to another while they are still alive. Then they distribute them to shops in neighbourhoods, where they are sold live,” he said.


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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