Kenya: Agency to Give Early Warning On Bird Flu

Nairobi — An early warning system will be established to alert countries where potentially infected wild birds are likely to land.

Mr Bert Lenten, the executive secretary of the Agreement on the Conservation of African Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds, said the UNited Nations Environment Programme (Unep) had given Sh2.25 million ($30,000) for the avian flu early warning system.

Mr Bert Lentern , the executive secretary of the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Water Birds, speaks at UNEP headquarters in Gigiri Nairobi, yesterday. Looking on is Mr Jim Knight, UK minister for Rural Affairs, Landscape and Biodiversity.

The project would involve identifying centres which deal with migratory birds, training of officials and capacity building.

Klaus Toepfer, the executive director of Unep, said precise information on the myriad places where migratory birds rest was scattered and needed to be organised.

Lenten also announced that the European Union had extended an import ban on wild birds from all countries for two more months.

The chief scientific support officer of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites), Mr David Morgan, said the ban has been extended following advice from veterinarians.

Morgan was speaking yesterday at a press conference at the United Nations Environment Programme headquarters, Gigiri, at the launch of a one-week Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) to be attended by over 300 delegates. He said the system would be designed to alert authorities in different continents if birds were on their way.

Officials will collect samples from the birds, including feaces, and body tissue to test for them for the flu.

Special maps, he said, would be developed for individual countries, pinpointing the precise locations where the birds are likely to land, such as lakes, marshes and other wetlands.

"We want to stop the spread of bird flu in the countries brought about by trade," Morgan said.

The European Union banned wild bird imports on October 27 and was to lift it by the end of November.

Morgan said the ban, which would be lifted at the end of January next year, would greatly affect trade in wild birds, especially from developing countries that depend on it as a source of revenue.

There are about 1.5 million wild birds worldwide and in 1998, 50 specimens of birds tested positive to the H5N1 strain of flu.

Over 150,000 million birds have died, among them 50 million caged birds such as parrots and singing birds.

But Morgan said the move would not stop trade completely.

He urged customs officials to enforce the ban efficiently to bar people from trading in wild birds which might carry the bird flu across countries.

At the same time, Morgan called for the establishment of proper legal and quarantine services to ensure that birds being traded were not affected by the flu.

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