UN-led alliance to develop bird flu early-warning system

20 November 2005 – An alliance of organizations led by the United Nations will develop an avian flu early-warning system able to alert countries and communities to the arrival of potentially infected wild birds, the world body's environment agency announced today in Nairobi, Kenya.

Although experts said it could take two years to be fully realized, the new initiative by the Convention on Migratory Species with support and funding from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) will warn authorities on different continents that migratory water birds are on their way.

Experts from other leading organizations such as Wetlands International, Birdlife International and the International Wildlife and Game Federation are also expected to be part of the scheme.

Special maps are to be developed for individual countries pinpointing the precise locations such as lakes, marshes and other wetland areas where the birds are likely to go.

Armed with this information, local health and environment bodies on continents like Africa, Asia and in Latin America will be better able to prioritize their planning and response, which could include warning farmers to move poultry away from key wetlands so as to minimize cross transmission with migratory birds.

"Precise information on the places where migratory birds go, including their resting sites and finally destinations is currently scattered across a myriad of organizations, bodies and groups," said Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of UNEP. "It is absolutely vital that this is brought together in a way that is useful to those dealing with the threat of this pandemic backed up by high quality, precision, mapping."

Robert Hepworth, the Convention's Executive Secretary, pledged to work with UNEP and other partners to develop this early-warning system, but said that could take as long as two years.

"But we know that it is needed and we know that the issue of avian flu and similar infections is likely to be a long-term one," he said. "So such a system should be useful not only over the short but over the long term too."

News of the system came as hundreds of delegates gathered in Nairobi for the eighth Conference of the Parties to the Convention, which opens tomorrow and runs until Friday.

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