[EDITORIALS]Avian flu can affect us, too

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[EDITORIALS]Avian flu can affect us, too

Avian influenza, or bird flu, has broken out at two to three poultry factories in North Korea, the country recently announced. The fact that the North admitted the outbreak of a disease that was reported as early as March 15, and that it previously denied so strenuously, is proof that the damage caused must be colossal. Considering the poor anti-epidemic systems in the North and the fact that it borders us, the outbreak of avian influenza is a deadly serious matter.
The North states that no human being has been affected by the disease ― but it is not easy to take the North’s claim at face value. Considering the lack of sanitary equipment, it is questionable whether all infected poultry has been successfully culled and burned. In order to devise effective countermeasures, North Korea must know that accurate accounting and reporting of the situation to the international community is most urgent.
What are even more worrisome ― although they have not been confirmed ― are rumors reaching South Korean businessmen in the North that North Korean citizens are digging up dead poultry and selling it on the market.
Seoul needs to come up with a contingency plan. The government has said that since no poultry originating from North Korea has been imported into the South there is no possibility of the bird flu reaching us.
This is irresponsible talk.
As bird flu can be transferred by migrating birds, there is always a possibility of an oubreak in the South. Scholars have argued that an outbreak of bird flu in 2003 in Eumseong, Chungcheong province, was caused by migrating birds from China. Above all, we have to convince Pyongyang that joint North-South sanitary operations are the most effective way to counter this problem.
In order to overcome its chronic food problems, North Korea has been grooming its poultry industry since 2001. There are scores of poultry factories in the North, including five in Pyongyang. If, as the North says, hundreds of thousands of chickens were burned, there is a high possibility that there was nationwide damage, adding to the country’s already considerable burden of suffering. Seoul needs to prepare medicines, equipment and other humanitarian aid for the North.
We hope that in response to our help, the North will respond, and that bilateral relationships, which have been cool of late, will thaw.
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