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Press Release 97/5


ROME, 24 February --A rinderpest epidemic has spread dramatically in Kenya and has crossed the border into Tanzania, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported today. The outbreak, considered to be the worst in the last 15 years, comes at a time when parts of eastern Africa are suffering from serious drought and tightening food supplies.

Rinderpest, the cause of the worst cattle plagues, is a highly contagious and lethal disease, also affecting wild animals such as buffaloes, eland and giraffe.

What appeared to start as an isolated local incident in Kenya is now developing into a major epidemic involving eastern and southern Kenya and northern Tanzania, which had been free of rinderpest for 14 years, FAO said.

The severe current drought affecting the region has aggravated the situation. ìIn times of drought, pastoralists move their animals out of the traditional range in search of grazing and water. It is this increased mobility that is bringing rinderpest into contact with completely susceptible populations of wildlife and unvaccinated livestock and will, unless checked, sweep through Tanzania and on into southern Africaî, FAOís expert Mark Rweyemamu said.

The extension of rinderpest into Tanzania is a matter of great socio-economic and ecological concern, threatening the wildlife reserves of Ngorongoro and Serengeti as well as the livestock in southern Tanzania and beyond.

Kenyan and Tanzanian veterinary and wildlife specialists are currently surveying the situation in collaboration with the FAO Emergency Prevention System for Transboundary Animal and Plant Pests and Diseases (EMPRES) and the Organisation of African Unityís Inter-African Bureau of Animal Resources. An FAO emergency assistance project for Tanzania has already started.

According to FAO, local resources are not considered sufficient to meet the urgent needs of rinderpest surveillance and control in both countries. Substantial donor support is urgently needed for a transboundary regional control programme to prevent a major livestock and wildlife catastrophe that could have serious consequences for food security in eastern and southern Africa.

The World Food Summit Plan of Action in November made a commitment for the progressive control of transboundary animal and plant diseases.

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