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Livestock Epidemic threatens Iraq

The news from Iraq is just getting worse. How can our Government be
so irresponsible in repeatedly vetoing any political moves towards
dialogue with Iraq or some lifting of the sanctions as a reward for
what has been achieved. Iraq must be desperate to allow the
Inspectors to destroy a vaccine laboratory.

Livestock Epidemic Threatens Iraq By Vijay Joshi Associated Press
Writer Thursday, January 28, 1999; 2:42 p.m. EST

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Hoof-and-mouth disease has crippled at least 1
million sheep and cattle in Iraq and the lack of vaccines for the
highly contagious disease threatens the country's livestock, a U.N.
official said Thursday.

The implications of the disease are catastrophic, the official said:
Farmers could be ruined, and meat and milk could become even more
scarce in a country where 8 1/2 years of U.N. economic sanctions
have already made shortages commonplace.

At least 50,000 animals -- mostly lambs, kids and calves -- have
died from the viral disease, the official told The Associated Press.
He spoke on condition of anonymity.

In an earlier interview, the representative of the U.N. Food and
Agriculture Organization in Iraq, Amir Khalil, said almost all of
Iraq's 18 provinces have suffered outbreaks of the sickness, known
also as foot-and-mouth disease.

``We have to take it seriously. If we don't contain it as soon as
possible, it might become an epidemic,'' he said.

Because grazing herds wander across borders, the danger extends
beyond Iraq and into neighboring countries. The virus also clings to
clothes and farming equipment and can drift as far as 30 miles in
the air.

Hoof-and-mouth disease affects cloven-hoofed animals. It eats away
at the skin on tongues and lips and causes lesions on feet. Infected
animals are left unable to eat or walk, and they lose weight and
their ability to reproduce. Newborn animals that drink milk from
their infected mothers usually die.

The disease is seldom transmitted to humans.

The first U.N. official said the number of infected animals is
increasing daily and noted that the Iraq government does not have
the resources to stop the disease from spreading.

The government has exhausted its reserve of 250,000 vaccine dosages.
Impoverished by the embargo imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of
Kuwait, it has no money to buy more.

To prevent an epidemic, Iraq needs 3 million doses -- worth $3
million -- as an emergency quick-fix, plus an additional 12 million
doses later, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization. The
U.N. body is trying to organize delivery of at least 1 million

The outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease is especially painful because
Iraq had eradicated the virus years ago and even produced its own
vaccines for it.

Iraq used to prepare the vaccines at a laboratory in the capital,
Baghdad, and export them for use on farms throughout the Middle
East. Iraqi farmers used to vaccinate animals three times a year,
one dose more than the required minimum.

However, the vaccine laboratory was destroyed in 1993 by the U.N.
commission set up after the 1991 Persian Gulf War to ensure that
Iraq eliminates its weapons of mass destruction. The commission
feared the facility could be used to help manufacture biological or
chemical arms. Iraqis have not vaccinated their livestock against
hoof-and-mouth disease since then.

The outbreak was first reported 1 1/2 months ago. Since then,
982,000 sheep and 50,000 cattle have been reported infected. In
addition, 48,000 newborn lambs and 3,000 calves have died, the
official said.

But many of Iraq's remaining 7 million farm animals are likely to
become infected: The virus is so contagious that once an animal is
infected, there is no escape for its companions in the herd.

 Copyright 1999 The Associated Press

Mark Parkinson
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