18 February 2003, Rome -- Pakistan has declared itself "provisionally free" from the deadly cattle plague rinderpest, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) announced today.

For a country to declare itself provisionally free from rinderpest, it must prove that there has been no outbreak for at least two years, that it has stopped vaccination and that a surveillance system is in place, according to the rules overseen by the Office International des Epizooties in Paris.

The last cases of rinderpest, a highly infectious viral disease that can destroy entire populations of cattle and buffaloes, were detected in October 2000 in a buffalo farm near Karachi, FAO said.

"Even three years ago freeing Pakistan from rinderpest was a dream," said Peter Roeder, Secretary of the FAO-led Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme (GREP).

"Recent massive movements of buffaloes and some cattle from Pakistan to Afghanistan, with some onward trade to Iran, have not been accompanied by rinderpest," Roeder said. "This adds strength to our understanding that Pakistan is now free."

Global eradication by 2010

"With Pakistan's success, there is growing confidence that the whole of Asia is now free from rinderpest for the first time in millennia."

"Pakistan's success story brings GREP a large step nearer to the goal of rinderpest eradication by 2010," Roeder said.

"The challenge for GREP in Asia is now to help all countries to stay free from rinderpest and to be prepared for emergencies. They also need to closely monitor the situation to finally prove that they are completely free from the disease."

"Pakistan still has much to do to achieve the final status of freedom from rinderpest infection. The country's veterinary services will need continuing support from FAO and the European Union to reach this target," Roeder said.

New chances for livestock exports

"Now that rinderpest has gone, Pakistan will be able to export more livestock. This will contribute to increased income and food security in rural areas and will help to reduce poverty," Roeder said.

Pakistan earns about 12 percent of its foreign exchange from livestock trade.

In regions that depend on cattle for meat, milk products and draught power, rinderpest has caused widespread famine and inflicted serious economic and social damage.

The last stronghold of the virus appears to be limited to extensive cattle herds in the semi-arid rangelands in the Horn of Africa, FAO said.

In the mid 1990s, a rinderpest outbreak swept through the Northern Areas of Pakistan killing tens of thousands of cattle, buffaloes and yaks.

The disease then lingered on in the dairy farms around Karachi and the remote areas of Southern Pakistan.

This initiated Pakistan's rinderpest eradication programme which started in 1995 with assistance from FAO at the time of the cattle plague epidemic.

Building on another successful FAO project in 2000, the European Union provided 1.8 million Euro for FAO to continue support for the rinderpest eradication effort.

In addition, the EU is about to launch a multi-million Euro livestock services development project in support of livestock production and veterinary services in the country thus ensuring continuity for at least six years.

Erwin Northoff
Information Officer, FAO
(+39) 06 570 53105