20 November 2002


Press Release



FAO Says Pastoral Ecosystem at Risk, Continued Eradication Efforts Needed

(Reissued as received.)

ROME, 20 November (FAO) -- Recent progress in eradicating rinderpest -- one of the world's most devastating livestock diseases -- risks being reversed as the rinderpest virus threatens to break out of its last stronghold in northeastern Kenya and southern Somalia, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned today.

While human beings cannot catch rinderpest, by killing entire herds that belong to small-scale dairy farmers or tribal herders who depend utterly on cattle for their food and livelihoods, the highly infectious disease can kill humans just as surely -- by famine.  Livelihoods based on cattle, buffaloes and yaks are at risk as is the wildlife heritage of Africa.  In Africa in 1982-1984, a rinderpest outbreak caused losses of $2 billion.

Experts are increasingly confident that recent national eradication campaigns have freed three of the last remaining reservoirs of the virus -- in Sudan, Pakistan and Yemen -- of the disease.  But while the virus persists in the southern part of the so-called Somali pastoral ecosystem, not only nearby areas of Africa are at risk from reinfection by the movement of cattle, but trade in cattle could carry the virus across the Red Sea to the Arabian Peninsula or, according to recent reports, even further afield to South-East Asia.

"The Somali pastoral ecosystem is our great challenge now", says Dr. Peter Roeder, Secretary of the FAO Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme, which is working to eradicate the disease by 2010.  "It is almost certainly the last refuge of the rinderpest virus in the world."

"The world is very vulnerable to a devastating resurgence of rinderpest should progress falter", warns Dr. Roeder.  "The virus has repeatedly broken out of the Somali ecosystem before and spread as far as eastern Kenya and into the United Republic of Tanzania, most recently in the mid 1990s, affecting cattle and killing wildlife. Recent reports that traders are arranging to start exporting cattle to Southeast Asia are also most disturbing.  This raises fears that the virus may reinfect a part of the world free from the disease since the 1950s."

"It is quite possible to move viruses around the world with a few hundred animals.  It has happened before", he says.  "Less than 50 years ago the Rome zoo suffered a rinderpest outbreak from virus introduced with Somali antelopes."

A non-governmental organization coalition working for the Pan-African programme for the control of epizootics in southern Somalia has provided valuable details of the extent of the area in which the virus has survived.  The FAO is now urging the international community to provide additional resources and intensify efforts to search for and destroy the virus where it is active, through targeted vaccination in Kenya and Somalia.

The virus must be eradicated by the end of 2003, followed by years of verification and virus containment, including steps such as destroying laboratory samples of the virus, for the goal of a global declaration of complete freedom from rinderpest to be realized on schedule by the end of 2010.

If all stakeholders seize the opportunity to work together with the Pan-African programme for the control of epizootics of the African Union's inter-African bureau of animal resources, and FAO, the prospects are better now than ever before.

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(i)   A broadcast-quality video on rinderpest is available for TV stations from FAO Media Production Unit.  Contact Enrique Yeves, tel: +39 06 5705 2518.  For more information, call Peter Lowrey, Information Officer, FAO, Rome. tel: +39 06 5705 2762, e-mail:, Web site: Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme:

(ii)  Audio-clip: Peter Roeder, FAO animal health expert, explains why rinderpest persists in East Africa (duration: 2min35sec).  In Realaudio (Instant play, 168Kb)  In mp3 (Broadcast quality, 1,170 Kb to be downloaded)

To play RealAudio files requires RealPlayer software -- (Free Download on

To play mp3 files requires any mp3 player software: Realplayer, Winamp, Windows Media Player, Quicktime Player ;,;

(iii)Information for journalists: If you are unable to download, call the radio unit for a feed: tel +39 06 5705 3749

(iv)  Inquiries should be directed to: FAO Media-Office ( -- John Riddle, 0039-06-5705 3259, e-mail: John.Riddle@FAO.Org or

Liliane Kambirigi, 0039-06-5705 3223, e-mail: Liliane.Kambirigi@FAO.Org or

Erwin Northoff, 0039-06-5705 3105, e-mail: Erwin.Northoff@FAO.Org.

For information media. Not an official record.