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The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has approved plans to create an early warning system to alert North African countries of outbreaks of the deadly bird flu virus, H5N1.


The plans, agreed on 24 December, will be implemented through the FAO's Technical Cooperation Programme and will cover Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia.


The FAO has warned that migratory birds could bring the virus to Africa from parts of Asia and Eastern Europe where outbreaks have been reported (see Bird flu 'is heading for Africa and Middle East').


Many migrating birds pass along the River Nile, where most of Egypt's population lives. Birds also use Algeria and Morocco as stop-overs during their flight to warmer places further south.


Mohammed El-Ansary, assistant to the FAO representative in Egypt, told SciDev.Net that countries would use the system to monitor migratory and domestic birds for disease and share information.

National action plans for combating bird flu will also be prepared through the initiative.

Activities will begin as soon as each country appoints a national coordinator and a steering committee is formed to implement the plans.

El-Ansary said the FAO would provide US$400,000 of funding to start the project.