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Cablegate: Ai in W. Bengal Sitrep 20 - Aphis Advisor Visits Bird Flu

VZCZCXRO4911
PP RUEHAST RUEHBI RUEHLH RUEHPW
DE RUEHCI #0069/01 0531543
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P R 221543Z FEB 08
FM AMCONSUL KOLKATA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1899
INFO RUCNCLS/ALL SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA COLLECTIVE
RUEAUSA/DEPT OF HHS WASHINGTON DC
RUEHRC/DEPT OF AGRICULTURE USD FAS WASHINGTON DC
RUEHPH/CDC ATLANTA GA
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RUEIDN/DNI WASHINGTON DC
RUEHGO/AMEMBASSY RANGOON 0395
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 0142
RUEHCI/AMCONSUL KOLKATA 2317

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KOLKATA 000069

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPT PLS PAS CDC -COX AND BLOUNT AND HHS-STEIGER AND HICKEY

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KFLU EAGR TBIO SENV PREL PGOV AMED CASC IN BG
SUBJECT: AI IN W. BENGAL SITREP 20 - APHIS ADVISOR VISITS BIRD FLU
AFFECTED AREAS OF WEST BENGAL

REF: KOLKATA 54 AND PREVIOUS

KOLKATA 00000069 001.2 OF 002


1. (U) SUMMARY: On February 13-15, USDA-APHIS Scientific and
Technical Advisor for Emergency Management, Joseph Annelli and
New Delhi Embassy Senior Attache for Agricultural Affairs,
Oliver Flake visited a West Bengal district affected by the
recent H5N1 outbreak. They also visited the India-Bangladesh
border to assess the possibility of cross-border transmission of
the virus. During their visit to Kolkata and adjoining
districts, Annelli and Flake visited organized and backyard
poultry farms, interacted with senior W. Bengal government
officials, and met an FAO delegation also present in West
Bengal. End Summary.

2. (U) On February 14, the US team visited Krishnagar town, in
West Bengal's Nadia district, located about 75 miles north of
Kolkata. The GOWB had declared eight administrative blocks in
the area as affected by AI between January 19 and 22. The team
first visited backyard poultry farms in the Krishnagar I
administrative block, adjacent to the town. The Block first
reported poultry deaths on January 16 and H5N1 outbreak was
confirmed on January 19. Culling operation started January 20.
Nadia completed culling 376,000 birds by January 28. The farms
have now been disinfected and sealed, with the birds buried in
isolated pits. The district administration has put up prominent
notices over burial pits, imposing a five-year ban on use of the
land. Senior district officials briefed the US team during the
site visit. The team found no live birds within the affected
areas.

3. (SBU) The US team then met with Nadia District Magistrate
Omkar Singh Meena who was in charge of the district's response
to the AI outbreak. Meena told the group that due to the AI
outbreak in neighboring Bangladesh, the GOWB had alerted his
office as early as July 2007 to the possibility of AI in W.
Bengal. At that time, the GOWB held a two-day workshop for
district magistrates in border districts and ordered them to
activate the GOWB's AI response contingency plan. Meena told
the US team that key personnel of his administration also
received training and were familiar with the plan, although the
lower-level functionaries had not been sensitized to the AI
response program. Additionally, offices of small town officials
were not well-equipped with sufficient infrastructure to enable
them to access GOI's AI action plan electronically.

4. (SBU) When the outbreak was confirmed on January 19
(Saturday), Meena said he was able to mobilize about 800 people
and obtain adequate funds within a 12-hour time period. Apart
from trained personnel from Animal Resource and Health
departments, volunteers came from panchayats (village councils),
NGOs and political party workers across the political spectrum.
The WB Land Reforms Department supplied detailed maps and helped
demarcate boundaries. Meena also indicated that logistical
supplies like disinfectants, tarpaulins were readily available,
although there was a shortage of Personal Protective Equipment
(PPE) in the first two days.

5. (SBU) Meena did note that there was a need to reassess the
infrastructure with the GOWB to respond to a subsequent AI
outbreak. Meena thought that the overall surveillance system
should be made stronger, with GIS support. There was also a
need for regional level laboratories for faster virus detection
and response. Meena said that the GOWB was "in the dark" about
where the infection came from and urged the "international
community to take responsibility" of identifying the source of
the infection. He remarked facetiously that the strain of H5N1
affecting W. Bengal was apparently an "intelligent" strain as it
did not choose to cross the inter-state border to reach Bihar,
Jharkhand or Assam. (Note: there have been reports of bird
deaths in Assam, but test results came back negative for H5N1.
End note.). Meena conveyed that his administration initially
followed the state's disaster management plan to tackle the bird
flu situation and were successfully able to control the outbreak.

6. (SBU) Annelli and Flake then traveled 20 miles east of
Krishnagar Town to reach the India-Bangladesh border at
Dattaphulia. The local commandant of Indian Border Security
Force (BSF) briefed the visitors. The team then drove along the
main border road and up to the border itself (cross border
movement was not possible as these parts of the border are
fenced with barbed wire and guarded by BSF personnel). However,
along both sides of the road were banana plantations, which were

KOLKATA 00000069 002.2 OF 002


deliberately planted to assist illegal cross-border cattle trade
from India to Bangladesh. The team was informed that poultry
movement from Bangladesh can possibly occur through this route.
The Icchamati River, meandering in and out of Bangladesh, forms
a natural border with India in some areas, however. The team
observed ducks and poultry on the Bangladesh side (in areas also
affected by AI) coming back and forth between the two countries.
The team also saw backyard poultry farms in operation within
300 yards of the "no man's land" that exists on both sides of
the official border.

7. (U) On February 15, Annelli and Flake drove about 65 miles
northwest of Kolkata to Bardhaman to visit a large poultry farm
owned by Arambagh Hatcheries Ltd (AHL). AHL is the largest
poultry operation in West Bengal and has about 100 commercial
farms that breed and rear chicken. AHL has facilities for a car
tire bath, hand and shoe wash, disinfectant mist and vehicle
spray before approaching the coops. The AHL facilities had
better bio-security measures than backyard poultries. However,
such operations are always at the mercy of backyard poultry
operations as one single outbreak in the vicinity could be
dangerous for their operation. AHL officials suggested to
Annelli that the GOWB should ensure strict bio-security
facilities and a vaccination regime for backyard poultries.

8. (U) The team also met with GOWB officials. First, they
spoke with WB Health Department Secretary Rajendra Shukla.
Shukla briefed the group on the spread of the disease using
daily updated maps of affected areas and discussed GOWB testing
procedures. He explained in depth that the GOWB was able to
mobilize significant human resources in a short period of time,
which was key to containing the spread of the disease. The team
also met with WB ARD Secretary Dilip Chakravorty. Annelli
suggested the possibility of a regional approach to combating
AI, including Bangladesh, Burma, India, and China. When asked
if the GOWB needed any assistance on AI, Chakravorty said that
they did not need equipment, but there was a need for more
awareness building and sensitivity training on AI. He
acknowledged that Consulate officials had approached his
department with an assistance proposal but he explained the
department's inability to take an independent decision on this
proposal as the central government has the final decision making
authority. He said such assistance would have to be channeled
via the GOI in New Delhi.

9. (U) While the US team was traveling through the affected
areas, there were reports of poultry mortality from a farm in
Umacharanpur village (Falakata administrative block) of
Jalpaguri district in North Bengal. Media reported the death of
400-1,000 birds since February 12. A senior ARD official told
post that samples from the farm have returned negative for H5N1.
The official said with poultry trade banned in West Bengal till
February 12, the owner could not sell chicken to buy poultry
feed and that the birds died of starvation.
JARDINE

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