Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Hard Rain Journal 2-8-07: Bird Flu Update -- Will Chicken Little Be Culled?

Image: Black Plague Physician

Hard Rain Journal 2-8-07: Bird Flu Update -- Will Chicken Little Be Culled?
By Richard Power

If you are concerned about the future of this planet, Indonesia and Nigeria are two of the countries that should be in the forefront of your consciousness.

Both nations are rich in resources and teeming with impoverished populaces; the narratives of their political, social, economic and environmental struggles are rife with painful lessons and bitter warnings.

Indonesia has the sixth largest population in the world, Nigeria has the eleventh largest.

Indonesia is ranked twenty-second in oil production, Nigeria is ranked tenth. Indonesia is ranked twenty-fourth in oil reserves, Nigeria is ranked eleventh.

Indonesia is ranked tenth in natural gas production, Nigeria is ranked twenty-eight. Indonesia is ranked thirteenth in natural gas reserves, Nigeria is ranked eighth.

Recent floods have submerged seventy percent of Jakarta, displaced hundreds of thousands of people and will cost trillions of rupiah:

Flood waters receded in parts of Indonesia's capital on Tuesday, but huge areas remained submerged heightening the risk of disease amid questions over why more had not been done to prevent the disaster.
Businesses were also trying to assess the economic impact of the floods, which have caused blackouts, cut telecommunications and made many key roads impassable.
Top politicians have also been visiting flood victims, as officials traded blame and the media asked why few lessons seemed to have been learned after equally bad floods five years ago.
Reuters, 2-6-07

In a recent report, Chop Fine: The Human Rights Impact of Local Government Corruption and Mismanagement in Rivers State, Human Rights Watch (HRW) highlights the suffering of the Nigerian people:

"Local government officials in Nigeria’s wealthiest oil-producing state have squandered rising revenues that could provide basic health and education services for some of Nigeria’s poorest people, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Human Rights Watch found that the government’s failure to tackle local-level corruption violates Nigeria’s obligation to provide basic health and education services to its citizens."

Disasters and corruption are just two of the numerous woes that have befallen the people of Nigeria and Indonesia. And if bird flu takes a turn for the worse, it could eclipse them all:

Indonesia, where most people keep chickens, has had more human deaths from the highly pathogenic H5N1 bird flu virus than another other country - 63.
Six people have died this year in a country of 17,000 islands and poor infrastructure where most bird flu victims have caught the disease from contact with infected fowl.
Daily Telegraph

The death of a young Nigerian woman from bird flu has focused attention on the risk of such human infections in West Africa, where social habits and weak health and veterinary services make the region vulnerable, experts say. Reuters Alternet, 2-6-07

As these stories broke, the deadly H5N1 strain was found on farms in Japan (again) and in the UK.

If bird flu mutates into a strain that faciliates human to human contact, what incubates in the slums of Jakarta and Lagos could rapidly spread to the high-rises of Tokyo and London.

Words of Power last reported on bird flu in September 2006, so I thought it would be a good time for an update and a reality check.

Once again, in a Words of Power interview, we turn to Regina Phelps, a world-class crisis management and business continuity consultant, for her insights.

Words of Power: There is a poignancy in the most recent headlines stories on bird flu: two stories of outbreaks in highly developed countries, Japan and the UK, two stories of deaths in Indonesia and Nigeria, two countries where, despite oil riches, huge populations toil in under-developed conditions. The situation in Indonesia is a ticking time bomb. Nigeria too. Although the recent death is the African nation's first fatality, reports are that the disease has spread far and wide among the birds there. Is enough being spent on awareness and education in these and other high risk countries? If the money was there could it be spent effectively?

Phelps: Developing nations present our greatest risk. There is not enough being done by the government in these countries to stop the disease spread. Indonesia is a prime example. Last Friday, the country announced that bird flu was now a national emergency – the disease is endemic (it can’t be eradicated from the natural world) and is epidemic in many areas. Citizens are reluctant to give up their chickens or ducks for many reasons: the fowl are their only source of protein, as well as an income source and an integral part of their culture. The government often will not reimburse them or pays them insufficiently for the loss, thereby creating a country that will not offer up their birds. More affluent countries will have to bear some of the burden in assisting these countries in managing this emergency.
Why is this an issue? When the disease continues to circulate in the domestic poultry it continues to mutate – each mutation brings is possibly closer to the state where it passes more easily from person to person – hence our next pandemic.

Words of Power: Where are we now in relation to H5N1? In 2003-2004, there were nine countries with confirmed bird flu outbreaks -- China, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Japan, Korea, Laos, Malaysia and Indonesia. In 2005, four countries were added -- Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and Kuwait. In 2006, there was an explosion -- thirty seven more countries -- Iraq, Nigeria, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Greece, Italy, Azerbaijan, Iran, Germany, India, Egypt, Austria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, France, Slovakia, Switzerland and Niger, Hungary, Serbia and Montenegro, Pakistan, Albania, Poland, Georgia, Cameroon, Myanmar, Denmark, Sweden, Israel, Afghanistan, Jordan, Czech Republic, Burkina Faso, Palestine Authority, U.K., Sudan, Ivory Coast, and Djibouti. That's about one third of the countries in the world. Should we expect it to continue to spread? Should we expect another exponential leap like the one we experienced in 2006? And what does it mean if we do not see one?

Phelps: Scientists demonstrated over the past year that the H5N1 is primarily a disease of domestic poultry – this includes legal and smuggled birds and backyard collections. Vietnam and Thailand, both countries who were early victims in the outbreak, suffered “re-infections” over the past six months – likely due to illegally smuggled birds. As long as the disease remains circulating in the domestic bird population we are at risk. It would not be surprising to see another large outbreak in 2007.

Words of Power: According to the Independent on 2-5-07, there is debate among scientists: "Some scientists argue that with each passing year the likelihood of its mutating to create a pandemic strain that would sweep the world killing millions of people are diminishing. If it was going to mutate it would have done so by now, they say." "Others argue that as the avian virus becomes more widespread in the bird and human population, the chances of it mixing and mutating with a human virus to create a pandemic strain increase - and that that likelihood is greatest in sub-Saharan Africa." What are your thoughts on these differing perspectives? And should such debates influence business continuity and crisis management planning vis-à-vis H5N1 and other pandemic threats or not?

Phelps: Both theories are valid. To be frank, no one really knows. There is a great deal of well- educated speculation, but it is speculation all the same. This is the first opportunity the world has had to watch the potential unfolding of a pandemic…or not! Developing nations pose our greatest risk and need the assistance of the world to combat the disease in their countries. The December study released in Lancet noted that 96% of the world deaths would likely occur in the third world nations.
As to how this debate (will happen, won’t happen) effects planning is important to reflect upon. Of all the actions that should be taken in a robust pandemic plan, it can easily be argued that less that 15% of those actions are solely because of a pandemic. Solid pandemic planning is the best business continuity plan you can have. We encourage all of our clients to look at it as building enterprise resiliency – and yes, getting ready for a pandemic.

Words of Power: In the same article, Professor Koos Van der Velden, chairman of the European Influenza Surveillance Scheme, is quoted: "I sense the public is fed up with the all the warnings about H5N1, when they see the pandemic has not happened. But the threat is still there and the chances are higher that it will start in a part of the world which is most heavily populated and where the systems of government are weak." Are those you work with finding it harder to gain the attention of the executive and secure the funding they need? Or have most organizations that will be prepared already committed to what should be done? What is the level of awareness and concern on the part of business and government at this point? Do we face the possibility of turning our backs on this threat and then being blind-sided in a big way?

Phelps: We are indeed a culture with a very short attention span. If a threat is announced and it doesn’t produce immediate results, it is assumed to be a “dud”. The flu will likely surprise those doubters. In the US, a majority of the larger companies are doing very basic planning – very basic. Many of the policies and procedures that are necessary (employee pay guidelines, work from home strategies, etc) await development and funding. Some companies are dragging their feet hoping “this too will pass.” As in most continuity planning, if there hasn’t been a disaster in awhile it is hard to convince executives that the cost is worth it. We definitely face the possibility of being blind-sided by a pandemic but also any major disaster – complacency creates a void.

Words of Power: What would you say is the most common and/or more dangerous misperception in the public mind and/or in the boardroom about this threat?

Phelps: There are two issues.
1. Most people still don’t understand the serious and deadly nature of seasonal flu, let along pandemic flu. They believe that “modern medicine” will save us…vaccines will miraculously appear or that a new medication will be produced in time to save the day. This will not happen. It is likely that vaccines or effective medications will not be available in any large numbers till the pandemic is mostly over (lasting some 18 months).
2. Alas, this is not any different from the general lack of preparedness and apathy for the hazards we are most likely to face in our area in most communities. Families and companies throughout the US and are not prepared for their “everyday” disaster. Whether it be earthquakes, floods, hurricanes or tornadoes, on most regional survey’s 80-90% of the public describe themselves as not prepared. If we do not prepare in advance for a pandemic or whatever the most likely event is in your area, you and your family are likely to suffer greatly. As demonstrated in major events like Katrina, we are truly on our own.

Additional ideas and resources for planning can be found at

Related Posts:

GS(3) Thunderbolt 9-13-06: Bird Flu Update -- Five Simple Questions, Five Simple Answers

Hard Rain Journal 8-21-06: Bird Flu Update – Denial is More Dangerous than H5N1 Virus Itself

Hard Rain Journal 7-11-06: Bird Flu Update – Woe in Indonesia, Concern in Africa, & Preparedness in An Australian Resort & Small Town USA

Hard Rain Journal 6-30-06: Bird Flu Update -- Four Important News Items

GS(3) Thunderbolt: Karo Cluster May Indicate Human to Human Transmission of Bird Flu

Words of Power #2: Indonesia’s State of Emergency on Bird Flu Demands Your Attention

Richard Power is the founder of GS(3) Intelligence and Words of Power. His work focuses on the inter-related issues of security, sustainability and spirit, and how to overcome the challenges of terrorism, cyber crime, global warming, health emergencies, natural disasters, etc. You can reach him via e-mail: For more information, go to

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,