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World Bank To Help Armenia Ward Off Bird Flu

By Emil Danielyan and Astghik Bedevian

The World Bank is considering providing financial assistance to Armenia as part of its unfolding efforts to prevent a worldwide spread of bird flu, the spokesman for its Yerevan office said on Wednesday.

Vigen Sargsian told RFE/RL that the World Bank is currently discussing with the Armenian government the possibility of allocating up to $5 million in loans and grants that would significantly expand emergency measures aimed at preventing a spread of the deadly virus from neighboring Turkey. “The discussions are still in the preliminary stages,” Sargsian said, adding that the government has yet to file a formal aid application.

The bank’s Washington-based Board of Directors set aside $500 million last week to help to prevent a global bird flu pandemic. Turkey, which has already been hit hard by the H5N1 virus, is expected to receive $30 million under the program. Authorities there announced Tuesday that another child was diagnosed with bird flu, raising to 21 the number of human cases in the country, including four children already dead and a boy in
worsening health. The deaths occurred in rural areas close to the Armenian border.

The Armenian government has so far earmarked only 50 million drams ($110,000) for its preventive measures. The bulk of the money is to be spent on the vaccination of all children and chickens in villages located along Armenia’s closed frontier with Turkey.

Residents of some of those villages told RFE/RL on Tuesday that the process is already in progress. Officials there admitted that the vaccines injected into domestic birds free of charge are designed to neutralize conventional and less dangerous chicken diseases other than bird flu. But they said the drugs are still useful as they strengthen humans’ and chickens’ immunity to the virus.

“People are not panicking and understand all the measures taken by the authorities,” said Ashot Terterian, mayor of Lusarat, a village less than one kilometer from the Turkish border. “Our vet has visited almost every house to conduct explanatory work.”

“All of my chickens have been injected with drugs provided by the village administration,” said a woman in the neighboring Yeghegnavan village.

Local officials and ordinary residents also said there have been virtually no chicken deaths in the area since the outbreak of the disease in Turkey. Many also said they continue to eat poultry despite the risks involved. “What should we be afraid of? Our chickens are healthy,” said another Yeghegnavan farmer.

“We keep eating our chickens,” said a young man in another local village, Noyakert. “I have more than a dozen chickens. The vet brought drugs the other day and we injected it. Nothing has happened yet.”

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