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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 September 2005, 11:00 GMT 12:00 UK
Bird flu fears grip Indonesia
As fears of a serious outbreak of bird flu mount in Indonesia, the BBC News website spoke to people in the cities of Jakarta and Medan to gauge their reaction.

FIRMAN GUNADI, POULTRY FARMER, JAKARTA,

Firman Gunadi
Firman Gunadi believes that the risk of bird flu is ever-present

Bird flu has struck before.

I run a poultry-breeding operation and I know how costly it can be.

When bird flu first hit in 2003 the Indonesian government did not want to acknowledge the situation. I am the secretary of Indonesia's poultry association. I can say that we really struggled.

Even though it wasn't quite legal at the time, we found ways of importing the vaccine from China.

Finally, the government admitted the problem and importing vaccines became legal.

We now vaccinate our birds regularly and have secure sanitation systems.

But this policy is costly for traditional farmers and it is just one form of prevention. The risk is always present. Broilers, which have a short breeding period, are not vaccinated.

There are many carriers, such as wild birds and migratory species and the virus could be transmitted easily in such a humid climate.

People are eating less chicken because they are scared, even though scientists say it is not a food-borne disease.

But we have to see where the real danger comes from. Families here can raise 10 or 20 chickens in their backyard for extra eggs or to cook for Eid. Indonesians own fighting cocks, singing birds, exotic birds, and they are very expensive,

One canary can cost as much as a brand new Mercedes. They are not going to cull these.

People keep their precious pets in their back yard and I'm sure they don't conduct a proper vaccination programme.

Sometimes, I think poultry farms are the safest places.

AGUS YANUAR, BANKER, JAKARTA,

Agus Yanuar
Agus Yanuar is worried about the government response

I worry that our government won't be able to handle this problem.

Singapore and Hong Kong were ruthless and efficient in their control of the disease but I see little action here.

As a family we are cutting down on chicken consumption. We used to buy live chickens from the wet market; the seller would slaughter and cut the chicken for us to cook.

The latest WHO announcement said it is safe to eat chicken and eggs as long as they have been processed well. The government has started fumigating bird and chicken markets but will it keep this practice up?

Local regulations are a problem too. In our housing complex, there are people who keep chickens for food.

Some of them have started spraying disinfectant around the nests - but I am really worried that this just isn't enough.

I am hoping the government will perform better than people expect.

CIANTI BURTON, HOUSEWIFE, JAKARTA,

I grew up in Jakarta and this outbreak of bird flu has scared me. It seems so close.

What is most disturbing is not knowing how it really affects us. There is little information from the government and the response has been slow and confusing.

We are not eating chicken any more. The vice president recently said it was safe to eat chicken, but I'm still unsure.

We know it could be an epidemic - but we can laugh in the face of adversity.
Cianti Burton
But the Indonesian people are treating it as a joke. We are taking it lightly, which is reassuring. We know it could be an epidemic - but we can laugh in the face of adversity.

I think this is typical of the Indonesian character. We recently moved house and there was bird flu banter between our movers! The light-heartedness makes me feel better.

I know there is talk of culling, but I can't see how it will work out. Birds and chickens are very popular here - there would be an outcry. Can we just kill all the birds?

My biggest fear is that the government might not know what it is doing.

GEORG JACKSTADT, GEOGRAPHER, MEDAN

Georg took this photograph of a  neighbourhood boy with his pet chicken
Many Indonesians keep poultry as pets

In Indonesia, avian flu happens in big cities.

I live in Medan, the third biggest city in Indonesia with 2m inhabitants.

My Indonesian wife and I are constantly amazed at how little control there is of the small scale poultry farms, common in living quarters.

Many Indonesians love chickens, they hold and fondle them, kiss their feathers.

Medan grew rapidly when the plantation and logging boom hit Sumatra. The population literally exploded - a nightmare for anybody in urban planning.

My road is supposed to be a living quarter but several furniture manufacturers openly burn wood, plastics and foam.

Somebody else keeps a few hundred quails in the back of his house. He sells their eggs as well as a fertiliser component made of dead birds and their faeces, which he dries on a small plot of land directly attached to the houses of his complaining neighbours.

Chickens and ducks are constantly crawling about.

Bird flu is not just a problem for bird experts and biologists. In Indonesia it is also a problem for planners.

But I do not expect anything to change; the Indonesian government has a long history of constant ignorance of environmental issues.




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