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Experts Building Bird Flu Warning System

Experts are mapping routes taken by migrating species of birds and the places of rest they choose during their annual travel, United Nations officials said on Sunday.//

The information can warn countries and communities about the arrival of wild birds that could be infected, and the local authorities could issue advice to those in areas at risk.

According to Britain's Biodiversity Minister Jim Knight, the system would also enable experts to recommend that farmers move poultry away from key wetlands to minimize cross infections from migratory birds, to offer advice on hygiene and how hunters should handle harvested birds.

Experts from Wetlands International, Birdlife International and the International Wildlife and Game Federation are also expected to be part of the early warning scheme.

Migrating birds have spread the deadly H5N1 strain of avian flu from Asia to other parts of the world, scientists say. Details of the warning system were announced at an international wildlife conference in Kenya's capital, Nairobi

Health experts say the deadly H5N1 strain of avian flu, which originated in Asia and spread to other parts of the world, could be the source of the next human flu pandemic if it mutates into a form easily passed between humans

The exact workings of the system have yet to be ironed out. The pilot project is expected to be operational in six months and the whole plan should be up and running in two years, said Marco Barbieri of the U.N. Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals.

The agency is developing the system with the help of the U.N. Environment Program, which has offered $30,000. A lot of information is available, but is scattered. It is just a matter of putting it all together into a centralized system, the UN officials believe.

The timing of migrations can vary from year to year and from season to season depending on numerous factors inc luding weather and climatic conditions. An efficient early warning system will have to feed in observations from sites throughout the world on when water birds are starting their migration and relay this to countries likely to receive these species.

"There are also important gaps in our scientific knowledge about fly-ways and migratory routes for some species. We need to urgently bridge that gap too. In doing so I believe this initiative can make a valuable contribution to the worldwide effort to deal with this threatened pandemic," the U.N. environment chief Klaus Toepfer said.

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