Murphy's Law: Al Qaeda and the Bird Flu

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March 23, 2006: The bird flu epidemic may cause significant political instability in some countries, and add to the unrest that terrorist organizations thrive on.

The financial losses to bird flu have been substantial. France, for example, is losing about $48 million a month due to bird flu, and Russia has seen its flocks reduced by about a quarter due to efforts to eliminate the deadly virus. But developed nations have a more or less well established "social safety net," and can cope. France, and even Russia, are in much better shape to cope with the fall out of the disease than less developed nations.

Consider Egypt. Long a major poultry producer, with an internal consumption of some 800 million birds a year and an export market of several hundred million more, Egypt has just been hit by bird flu and has initiated massive slaughter of suspect flocks. The epidemic could result in losses of $3 billion, easily 1-2 percent of the country's GDP. It will also lead to widespread bankruptcy and destitution among the 2.5-3 million people employed in raising poultry. Worse, malnutrition may become a serious problem, as poultry accounts for about half of the animal protein the average Egyptian consumes. Actually, poultry has become an even more important source of food because of a recent outbreak of foot and mouth disease. Egypt is already coping with widespread Islamist agitation, and the fallout from bird flu could readily lead to further internal problems. And with reports of at least two cases of human infection, this situation could easily deteriorate further.

Nor is Egypt by any means the "worst case" situation. Many other countries in Africa and Asia are even less able to cope with the impact of a major bird flu outbreak. Several countries teetering on the edge failure, such as Chad, Ivory Coast, and Lesotho, could easily fall apart as a consequence of a devastating bird fly outbreak. And as that happens, terrorists will have more recruits, and more places to hide.

 


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