Thursday, December 08, 2005

News - World Bank bird flu aid seen ready by January - 08 Dec 2005 - World News

WASHINGTON - The World Bank is likely to approve a US$300 million ($423.31 million) to US$500 million line of credit to help countries deal with bird flu before a global summit in Beijing on January 17-18.

The proposed financing is currently awaiting a decision by World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz before it goes to the bank's board of member countries for approval.

The funding is seen as pivotal to global efforts to tackle a possible pandemic of the H5N1 avian flu virus, which has infected 130 people in five Asian countries, killing 69 of them.

Jim Adams, the bank's vice president for operations policy and country services, said World Bank teams were already in Turkey, Vietnam, Indonesia and Kyrgyzstan to develop bird flu programmes for when the funds are available - either through the bank or other development agencies.

"They have asked us to come out and develop a programme, and normally that would lead to a request for funding, but I don't want to make decisions for them," Adams said.

"We feel we have a template, or menu of items, which we are sitting down with governments and asking them where they need the most help," he added.

Adams said plans for a separate multi-donor trust fund for bird flu were moving forward and discussions on its financing were currently underway with European donors, ahead of a formal pledging session in Beijing.

The World Bank has earmarked a US$1 billion global war chest for bird flu, including its own credit facility. It has estimated that a flu pandemic lasting a year could cost the global economy up to US$800 billion.

Adams said risks posed by bird flu were "very much on the table now" and the conference in Beijing, a few months after the first summit in Geneva, would reinforce global awareness.

The H5N1 strain of bird flu is endemic in poultry in parts of Asia. Human cases remain relatively rare, but there are fears that the virus could mutate into a form that passes easily from person to person and causing a pandemic in which millions could die.

Ukraine is the latest country to detect a virulent strain of avian flu in birds at the weekend.

"People are very alert to the problem," Adams said. "East Asia was sensitive because they went through SARS and there is a recognition of the economic impact, but what we are seeing is a fairly broad recognition that this is a problem that has to be managed," he added.

In Beijing, Adams said agencies at the forefront of bird flu wanted to create a "credible" sense of the risks and challenges that lie ahead.

"We don't want to become fear-mongers, but the development challenge is there," he said, adding it was essential that surveillance systems were in place to prevent the virus from spreading quickly.

Adams said it was important that a certain amount of the financial help offered to especially poor countries was in the form of grants, so it did not burden their budgets.

"We are willing to lend, but we also see the importance of mobilizing a maximum amount of grant funding," he added.

World Bank bird flu aid seen ready by January - 08 Dec 2005 - World News

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