Srinagar: Amid the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic, dozens of cattle and sheep have died in a Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) outbreak in many villages in central Kashmir's Budgam district causing huge financial losses to the farmers even as the local authorities are complaining about shortage of vaccines against the disease.
Locals from the affected villages told Greater Kashmir that the FMD, a viral disease in cattle and sheep, first broke out in Beerwah around a week ago and later spread to other villages including Rathsun, Sodhipora and Chewdara in no time killing several cattle and sheep.
In Chewdara village, at least 50 sheep and 10 cattle died of the FMD outbreak in a week alone, a local resident claimed.
In nearby Sodhipora village, the outbreak has been no less in degree where at least nine sheep died in a single day besides a few cattle also, a local told Greater Kashmir.
The disease outbreak is taking a toll on the affected farmers financially amid the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown which has already brought economic activities to a grinding halt.
Arshid Ahmad Dar, a local from Rathsun village said majority of people in the hamlet came from the lower strata hence were prone to destitution in case the disease was not brought under control immediately.
As per Lone, a milch cow costs up to Rs 80,000 in the contemporary animal trade market. "Understandably, it becomes depressing to see the same cow dead overnight,” quipped Lone.
Tariq Ahmad Lone, another villager too, said that the viral disease outbreak had been affecting the mental health of the villagers due to the financial losses. Locals said the disease outbreak, if left unchecked, could lead to bankruptcy and insolvency as many farmers had taken bank loans to buy the livestock.
Showkat Ahmad of Rathsun, a teacher by profession and in-charge of local Bait-ul-Maal (Islamic charity organization) told Greater Kashmir that since the viral disease took its grip on the village, locals are coming to ask for monetary assistance in huge numbers. “There are 1400 families in the village and almost all of them depend on rearing cattle. I cannot see them surviving if they aren’t provided early help,” Showkat said.
Locals blamed the disease outbreak to lack of vaccines against the disease which the Animal and Sheep Husbandry Departments would otherwise administer to the livestock animals every year. "On Saturday, a team of doctors was sent by the district administration to assess the situation in the village. We requested them to vaccinate our livestock but they declined citing the unavailability of the vaccines,” Showkat said.
The concerned Block Veterinary Officer, Dr Khursheed Ahmad acknowledged the shortage of FMD vaccines as the reason for not conducting a vaccination drive this year. “Our department used to procure vaccines on our own but this year the Centre had said that they will send us vaccines from there, which has not happened till date resulting in the failure of conducting vaccination drives and a catastrophe like situation in the village,” the senior veterinarian claimed.
With no vaccines coming, the department has been left with no option but to only hold awareness camps in the area to teach farmers about the SOPs and other precautions to save the uninfected cattle. Along with holding awareness camps the doctors are providing medicines to villagers for livestock to cure secondary diseases. “We are doing this so that the immune system of cattle is not weakened by other bacterial infections,” the BVO said.
However, the director Animal Husbandry Kashmir, Purnima Mittal denied the scarcity of FMD vaccines and claimed to have conducted the vaccination drive in the month of November. “There is no dearth of vaccines with the department and this outbreak has been caused due to migration of livestock and the rise in temperature,” Mittal told Greater Kashmir.
Regarding the time of vaccination drive which was earlier conducted at the end of March, Mittal said as per the directions given by the Centre, the drive was conducted as early as November. “Our department has administered 100% vaccination to animals across Kashmir,” claimed Mittal.
She further said that her department has learned about the outbreak and has sent many teams to disinfect the particular areas and to hold awareness camps. Informing about the second dose of FMD vaccines which are administered in desperate times like this, the Chief of Animal Husbandry department said that a second dose couldn’t be administered during the outbreak.
Deputy Director at the Research Disease Investigation Laboratory has reportedly issued an advisory to the farmers asking them "not to panic" saying the FMD "causes negligible mortality". As per the advisory, the farmers have also been asked to separate the infected animals from healthy ones and sprinkle 4% sodium bicarbonate solution in the premises of the cattle sheds daily to avoid further spread of the disease.