The lessons learned from the elimination of rinderpest, a deadly cattle plague that has threatened the livelihoods of herders and rural families for millennia, can be applied to tackling other major challenges, such as hunger and extreme poverty, a senior United Nations official said today.
Jacques Diouf, the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), unveiled a commemorative plaque in Rome, the site of the agency's headquarters, to celebrate the global eradication of rinderpest.
The eradication – the first time an animal disease has been eliminated from its natural setting because of human efforts – was achieved under an international programme coordinated by FAO since 1994.
The agency said it worked closely with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), governments, regional institutions such as the Inter-African Bureau for Animal Resources, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
Mr. Diouf described the eradication as a major success for humanity, and the plaque acknowledge the work of the professionals, technical and financial institutions and Member States in ending the disease.
“Over the years I have frequently said that the world has the means necessary to eliminate hunger, malnutrition and extreme poverty,” said Mr. Diouf. “The total eradication of rinderpest – a disease that decimated cattle, buffalo and many other animal species, both domestic and wild – is proof of this today.”
A highly infectious viral disease, rinderpest does not directly affect humans, but it takes just a few days for a sick animal to die and it can wipe out whole herds. The last known outbreak occurred in Kenya in 2001.
The Director-General was joined by a series of high-profile figures at today's celebration, including the former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the FAO Goodwill Ambassadors Pierre Cardin, Mory Kanté and Anggun.
The Nobel laureate and scientist Peter Doherty, Chadian President Idriss Déby, Togolese President Faure Gnassingbé and OIE Director-General Bernard Vallat were among the other participants.
The event took place as part of FAO's biennial conference, and on Tuesday the agency's Member States are expected to adopt a declaration celebrating global freedom from rinderpest.