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Thursday, 21 November, 2002, 15:47 GMT
Somali cattle disease threatens Asia
Cattle in Kenya
Rinderpest is deadly to cattle but not humans

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation is warning that a devastating outbreak of a cattle disease threatens areas from which it has been eradicated.

Rinderpest, which can sweep through herds of cattle, buffalo and yak, has been contained in just one area - Somalia - after years of effort to eradicate it from the rest of the world.


It can kill 95%, even up to 100% of all animals when you get a really hot virus

Peter Roeder, Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme
But the FAO now fears that new exports of cattle to Indonesia and Malaysia may spread the fatal disease to south-east Asia.

Rinderpest is harmless to humans, but devastating to cattle.

When it broke out in Africa at the start of the last century, it killed off 95% of the cattle between Ethiopia and South Africa.

New markets

Years of eradication has left it in just one last pocket - Somalia and northern Kenya.

Since an outbreak in 1993, the traditional markets in the Arabian peninsula have been officially closed to Somalis.

Mogadishu
Somalia has been devastated by 11 years of war

Now traders are looking further afield, exploring new markets in South-East Asia.

Dr Peter Roeder, of the Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme says this raises the prospect of returning the disease to an area which was freed in the 1950s.

"In a susceptible population it can go like wildfire. It can kill 95%, even up to 100% of all animals when you get a really hot virus going well in a completely susceptible population," he says.

Since Rinderpest was eradicated from South-East Asia, vaccination stopped many years ago.

Scientists believe the conditions are now ideal for an outbreak of the disease, which could devastate herds across the region.

And once it escaped from the pocket in Somalia, years of work to eradicate it could be lost.


Politics

Terrorist haven?

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25 Sep 00 | Africa
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