Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Hiroyuki Konuma

FAO Regional Representative for Asia-Pacific

He Changchui
Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific
delivered at the

Opening Session of the
FAO/OIE Emergency regional meeting on
Avian Influenza control in animals in Asia

26-28 February 2004, Central Sofitel

His Excellency Newin Chidchob, Deputy Minister for Agriculture and Cooperatives Thailand
Dr Bernard Vallat, Director-General, World Organization for Animal Health (OIE)
Dr Jutzi, director of FAO’s animal production and health division
Representatives from the World Health Organization and the Japan Livestock Technology Association
Distinguished participants from many countries, representatives of the donor community, members of the commercial sector
Distinguished guests and observers
Ladies and gentlemen

I have the privilege to welcome you to the Emergency regional meeting on Avian Influenza control in animals in Asia. On behalf of Director-General Jacques Diouf, I should like to express the gratitude of FAO to the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives of Thailand for generously hosting this meeting, and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) for co-organizing this event with FAO. I would also like to thank the World Health Organization and the Japan Livestock Technology Association (JLTA) for their support and valuable contribution.

At this juncture, a key sector of food and agriculture is fraught with challenges of irrefutable and compelling nature. The bird flu disease indeed constitutes a major constraint to chicken production and the safe utilization of poultry products by consumers around the world. Sustainable healthy animal production, veterinary public health, food security and safety, rural development and livelihoods as well as trade are compromised by the rapid and large scale outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza since the beginning of this year.

In this context, it is untoward for its managers to wonder how long the world, how long Asia will need to cope with the avian influenza emergency. Although the pattern of decisions by governments and their regional and international partners in the last few weeks has been encouraging for those who devote their careers and pledge their commitment and experience to serve public and animal health, a further acceleration of our capacity to consolidate and expand the fight against the bird flu disease is the central theme as well as expected outcome of your meeting over the next three days.

I should like to recall that the Thai government has provided regional leadership by calling a ministerial meeting on the current animal disease situation on 28 January of this year. FAO was called upon as a resource organisation, and noted the commitment of the Asian countries and their partners who were represented by ministers of agriculture and public health, or their senior representatives.

This political initiative was followed immediately by a technical consultation on the control of Avian Influenza on 3 and 4 February at FAO Headquarters in Rome. The panel concluded that the current epidemic in Asia is rapidly evolving and anticipated it to continue to expand both in geographical distribution and incidence. As an emergency measure, the panel recommended that control programmes be immediately intensified and monitored and that public education in veterinary training and national and regional capacity building should be an important part of the development of long term surveillance and control of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) and other priority diseases. Rehabilitation and restructuring of the sub sector should duly reflect the dire needs and importance of the smallholder sector.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is estimated that the Eastern and Southeastern parts of Asia share a population which approaches 6 billion birds. Major subpopulations are found around the rapidly expanding mega cities. A sizeable part of this poultry population remains with the smallholder sector. It is indeed estimated that some 200 million farmers, keeping somewhere between 10 to 100 birds - mainly chicken, ducks, geese, turkeys and quail - constitute a vitally important contribution to the food and income security of the rural sector in Asia

While recognizing the public health significance of avian influenza, the disease has a serious impact on the poultry industry, including poultry producers, processors, traders, food vendors and people employed in the poultry sector by allied industries. FAO is particularly concerned with the loss of livelihoods of the resource-poor smallholder farmers in affected countries and regions, who have limited or weak to no capacity to recover from their losses.

The current avian flu epidemic can be considered a part of the process of global change. Traffic and trade dynamics create conditions for pathogens to hitchhike around the world at unprecedented speed and frequency. Climate change alters the distribution of insect vectors, influence bird migration and livestock concentration. Urbanization, income rise and dietary changes create a demand for increased animal production. Poultry industries are expected to continue to expand rapidly in most countries in Asia for the next two decades. These could be accommodated only with the promotion of good farming and marketing practices, and regulated by the public sector.

Support from the donor community is required today for Emergency Response, tomorrow for Emergency Prevention, and beyond these for Rehabilitation and Restructuring, and long term surveillance and prevention. All these components should be viewed together as without integrating the required immediate, medium and long range responses there will be no effective containment of the current emergency.

The current emergency is therefore multi-faceted. We have:

  • An animal health emergency. At least 100million birds have died or have been destroyed. The source of the disease is not yet known and its epidemiology is not clearly understood.
  • A livelihoods emergency. The livelihoods of smallholder poultry producers continue to be at risk
  • A social emergency. It poses a threat to human health (20 deaths so far), feelings of personal insecurity and uncertainty about the future. The already poor and vulnerable have limited capacity to cope. Paranoia is likely to affect tourism to the Region.
  • An international economic emergency. To date, 10 countries are known to be affected. Domestic and international trade has been disrupted. Many countries have banned the import of poultry products.
  • An institutional emergency. National institutions have struggled to contain the disease domestically, and international institutions are rushing to develop a concerted response. International animal health regulations are becoming increasingly more stringent in response to a series of crises, so that countries must plan not only to return to the status quo but to strengthen their institutional capability.
  • An immediate and a long term threat. The disease has not yet been contained. It may continue to spread, or re-emerge in the future. It constitutes a threat to livelihoods, human health, domestic and global trade, national protein supplies with potential consequences for both developing and developed countries.

The responses must therefore also be multi-faceted. They must cover the immediate emergency as well as the longer term strategies for disease prevention and the development of the livestock sector, taking into account:

  • animal disease - with such issues as strengthening of national veterinary services surveillance, development of contingency plans, proficient and reliable diagnosis, enabling legislation, public awareness, international reporting obligations and communication and cooperation between countries for disease control/eradication and multidisciplinary research
  • households livelihoods and how best these can be preserved and improved
  • economics at national and international level, including trade and
  • institutional strengthening and collaboration

Ladies and gentlemen,

Allow me to briefly touch on the support provided by FAO to the countries in the region. On the specific request of governments, the Organization’s Technical Cooperation Programme has provided emergency funds to the tune of $6.5 million. Six national and three inter-country emergency projects are now underway and FAO experts continue to be in the field together with senior veterinary government officials in several Asian countries to help investigating the origin and dynamics of the disease, to implement control. The current avian influenza outbreaks serve as a wakeup call for building an effective regional network on surveillance, monitoring and early reponse system to natural disasters as well as enhancement of national capacity in disaster prevention and control. This is a challenge – both in the immediate term as the emergency operation is costly, and in the long term, the rehabilitation and sustainable development will require comprehensive policy review and the necessary restructuring of the livestock sectors.

I should therefore like to reiterate our call for support from the international community and donor organizations. The world has a stake in the success of the efforts to control the bird flu and resume healthy production. Poorer countries urgently need financial and technical assistance. This is also a call to donors, realizing that the fight against bird flu will take longer than we thought, and it will be enormously costly. Furthermore, it is not a task of the agricultural sector but requires the cooperation of various government agencies, farmers, producers and consumers at large.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I hope that your present consultations will help the countries to exchange information and views on various aspects of avian influenza control and will come up with well-framed, integrated and viable plans and approaches for the regional goal of controlling the disease and improving livestock productivity and peoples livelihoods.

I also dare to anticipate that your genuine efforts will help to achieve effective regional cooperation. I furthermore hope that the proposals and conclusions of the meeting will be found to reflect a reasoned and comprehensive analysis of the requirements of the day, and that they will be found acceptable as to the general directions the region and the world should be taking in the immediate and medium-term for the control of avian influenza in animals.

I wish you all a successful meeting.