Pastoralists in eastern Africa hard hit by Rift Valley fever and other diseases

Months of heavy rains and floods, followed by outbreaks of animal disease, have killed tens of thousands of livestock in northeastern Kenya and southern Somalia. Pastoral herders have suffered the highest losses. FAO has appealed for US$2.5 million to help fight the diseases.

Rift Valley fever (RVF) has been identified as one of the causes of many abortions and animal deaths and of a fatal haemorrhagic disease that has killed hundreds of people in the area. Work is continuing to identify other diseases involved. The heavy rains have provided ideal breeding conditions for mosquitoes, midges and biting flies that transmit a range of serious diseases. Mixing of herds and crowding on land above the flood waters also favour the transmission of other epidemic diseases - potentially the most serious of which are rinderpest and peste des petits ruminants, a rinderpest-like disease with a very high mortality rate that strikes small ruminants, particularly goats.

The FAO request is part of a consolidated appeal to donors by UN agencies working together to tackle the emergency. It warns: "The livestock are at risk from a number of the most serious transboundary infectious diseases, which could develop to epidemic proportions if unchecked."

Examination of remote sensing data "indicate that suitable conditions for the explosive multiplication of mosquito vectors exist over extensive areas of Kenya, southern Somalia, southeastern and southern Ethiopia, eastern Uganda, southern Sudan and northern Tanzania", according to FAO.


Kenya: camel milk is a staple food for pastoral people

Camels in Kenya and Somalia have also been severely affected by what is believed to be camel pox, with widespread abortions from other causes reported. This will lead to a critical shortage of camel milk - a staple for pastoral people, particularly when other foodstuffs are in short supply - over the coming year. This, together with the loss of other livestock, is a dangerous blow to the food security of vulnerable people, in an area where cereal harvests have been severely affected by the floods.

The joint appeal seeks funds to coordinate treatment of sick animals and to control potentially epidemic diseases so as to safeguard the health of remaining livestock and return them to full productivity. FAO and other UN agencies are working in partnership with the Kenya Veterinary Service, the EC, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources (IBAR), and with local communities and non-governmental organizations in Kenya and Somalia.

Kenya and Somalia are not the only countries that are concerned about the impact of El Niño on the health of their livestock. The Tanzanian authorities have alerted FAO to an unusual occurrence of animal diseases in the north of the country, primarily in sheep and goats. Ethiopia has fielded veterinary teams to the south and southeastern parts to investigate the health status of the livestock there. FAO intends to field missions to rapidly assess the extent and severity of the animal disease situation in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda so that appropriate assistance can be provided.

17 February 1998

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