By Hovannes Shoghikian
Western donors have approved $2 million in additional assistance designed to help Armenia remain unaffected by recurring outbreaks of bird flu around the world that have again hit neighboring Turkey.
The grant was released late Wednesday by the World Bank, which is administrating a special fund set by eight donor agencies, including the European Union, to combat the worldwide spread of the potentially lethal disease.
“Today’s approval provides the opportunity to Armenia to more completely prepare for the potential of an avian influenza outbreak as well as be better prepared for other contagious diseases,” Frauke Jungbluth, a senior World Bank official in charge of the scheme, said in a statement. “Given the recent outbreaks of avian flu in Turkey, Hungary, UK and Russia and seasonal risks, it is critical to maintain the momentum and to continue avian influenza preparedness activities in earnest.”
The statement said the funds are aimed at improving Armenian authorities’ ability to guard against the H5N1 strain and, if necessary, promptly detect the virus. They will be used for purchasing new equipment for local veterinary and healthcare services, it said.
The World Bank already disbursed last June a $6.25 million loan to Armenia for the same purpose in addition to a $800,000 grant given by the government of Japan. The assistance was meant to support a comprehensive plan of actions against bird flu that was adopted by the Armenian government in January 2005.
The plan called for training of officials dealing with veterinary security and purchase of relevant equipment for their laboratories. It also contained guidelines on how to cull poultry and compensate farmers in case the H5N1 virus reaches Armenia.
According to Artavazd Hakobian, an analyst at the World Bank office in Yerevan, the government will also be able to compensate low-income farmers that would have to slaughter their fowl. “It envisages the creation of a special fund that will allow for compensation of small farms in case of a mass fowl cull,” Hakobian told RFE/RL.
Armenia is the only country in the region that has not registered any cases of avian influenza so far. An outbreak of the disease killed four children in a village in eastern Turkey close to the Armenian border just over a year ago. Turkish authorities confirmed a similar H5N1 outbreak in the country’s southeast this week.
Bird flu cases were also detected in Europe and elsewhere in the world last month, leading Yerevan to re-impose a partial ban on poultry imports to Armenia.