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Times 2 Feb 07
Indonesia to declare bird flu a national disaster
Virus endemic in chickens there; ban imposed on raising fowl in living areas
By Salim Osman, Indonesia Correspondent
JAKARTA - INDONESIA will declare bird flu a national disaster after admitting that the disease has become epidemic in the country. The country has also banned the raising of domestic fowl in residential areas, and has begun enforcing it by sending out government officials to slaughter thousands of backyard chickens.
The virus is now endemic in chickens almost all over the country and, despite optimism late last year that it may have been contained, it killed six people in the last month.
'It has become an epidemic,' National Development and Planning Minister Paskah Suzetta told reporters. 'The President has indicated he will declare it a national disaster, so money can be allocated from the state budget's disaster fund.'
The move will free up more funds for the government to fight the disease. Officials have been complaining that shortage of funds has hampered their efforts to combat the disease in the country.
Money is needed to pay for the cost of vaccination, culling of birds and paying compensation to farmers whose birds have to be destroyed. About US$250 million (S$384 million) is needed to fight bird flu, experts have said, but the Indonesian parliament has allocated only US$50 million for it so far.
The disease infects one person every week and has already killed 63 in the world's fourth most populous country - making it the worst-hit nation in the world. Indonesia has tallied more than a third of the world's human deaths from the deadly H5N1 strain of the virus.
Yesterday, veterinary and local government officers fanned out into the streets of Jakarta despite torrential rains to begin slaughtering chickens. Their arrival was heralded by an airplane circling overhead dragging behind a banner advising residents to 'fight bird flu'.
Indonesia has come under criticism for failing to crack down on bird flu when it first appeared in poultry stocks nearly four years ago. Many of the people who have died from the disease lived near the teeming capital, home also to more than 100,000 backyard chickens, ducks, doves and song birds.
Before declaring the ban, the authorities gave residents weeks to voluntarily get rid of their birds, but there was little response. Jakarta Governor Sutiyoso said: 'I will show no tolerance,' he said after meeting mayors, health and husbandry officials. 'Chickens found running loose will be immediately killed, the sick ones thrown into a fire and the healthy ones given to owners to be fried and eaten.'
However, the effectiveness of the slaughter campaign remains to be seen. There are fears that many residents will hide their birds, or that corrupt officials will be susceptible to bribes.
Past efforts to carry out mass slaughters have failed in part because the cash-strapped government said it could not afford to compensate bird owners. Meanwhile, more cases of bird flu were reported elsewhere in the region.
Thailand yesterday detected a second outbreak, while in Japan, officials ordered the mass slaughter of some 93,000 chickens after confirming its fourth case this year. email@example.com
Additional information from Associated Press and Bloomberg
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