Avian influenza may resurface in India: UN official

Updated on Aug 07, 2007 11:12 PM IST

There are risks that bird flu will flare up again with a potential catastrophe for the poultry industry, warns FAO chief Jacques Diouf.

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IANS | By, Chennai

India may have to face repeated outbreaks of bird flu and lose as much as 125 million tonnes of its food production due to climate change in the coming years, director general of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Jacques Diouf warned on Tuesday.

All this may affect India's food security, the FAO chief said at a conference at the MS Swaminathan Foundation here.

"Given the presence and persistence of bird flu H5N1 viruses in the neighbouring countries, it is possible that India will face repeated incursions of this important threat to both animals and humans," Diouf said.

"Despite the commendable efforts by the veterinary and other public services during 2006, in terms of early warning and swift response mechanisms, there are good reasons to believe that highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 may again enter the country.

"There are risks that avian influenza will flare up again with a potential catastrophe for the poultry industry," he warned, saying that like in other Asian countries, the risk factor depended on issues like density of production plants, mix of domestic water fowl and terrestrial species like quail, turkey and chicken, possible contact with wild water birds and large populations of domestic ducks and geese.

Diouf also said: "India could lose 125 million tonnes of its rain-fed cereal production, equivalent to 18 per cent of its total cereal production" due to climate change, as worldwide "rain-fed agriculture is at risk.

"The genuinely impressive success story of India's economic growth and its emergence as a global power is also confronted with a pessimistic picture ... The National Family Health Survey alerts us that 40 per cent of the adult population in India is underweight ... 79 per cent of children between age three months and three years suffer from anaemia.

"In a country with 348 million people under 14 years of age ... India's child malnutrition problem remains a critical priority for the country," the FAO chief said.

"The challenges are daunting, 209 million people are still hungry in this country, only five million less since 1992," he noted, saying FAO's vision of a world without hunger advocates a "village-by-village" approach.

India should tackle food insecurity in a village-by-village manner, ensuring integrated farming, distribution and hunger monitoring, so that every village is hunger free by 2015, Diouf said.

MS Swaminathan, national advisor on food security and farm policy, said: "A strong political will and allocation of adequate funds is needed to make the country truly hunger free" - one of India's millennium goals.

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