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EU says cash now flowing from bird flu aid pledge
Last Updated: 2006-07-14 11:23:09 -0400                        By Jeremy Smith

Cash has started to flow from the coffers of the European Commission to help the developing world prepare for a bird flu pandemic, some six months after it was pledged, officials at the EU executive said on Friday.
The Commission has promised 100 million euros ($127 million) to help fight the disease, adding its weight to other donors such as Japan and the United States that together pledged nearly $1.9 billion at a conference held in Beijing in January.
However, in a joint report issued earlier this week, the United Nations and World Bank complained that only a fraction of this combined amount had been paid so far. While donor countries had allocated $1.15 billion for bird flu aid from their budgets by the end of April, they had transferred just $331 million to recipients, the report said, also singling out the Commission for not distributing any funds.
But Commission officials said some cash was now on its way.
"All the money should reach beneficiaries by the end of the year, the whole amount," one told Reuters. "In the last week of June, money has actually gone out - 23 million (euros) as an advance payment, or 50 percent of the total commitment."
That particular commitment refers to a pledge of 50 million euros to be mostly channelled through a Multi-Donor Trust Fund administered by the World Bank to help countries hit by bird flu in Asia, the Mediterranean and eastern Europe. The Commission has also promised 30 million euros for African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries - mostly former colonies of nations such as Britain, France and Portugal. A further internal decision was needed from the Commission for the money to start flowing from this element of the aid package and this was taken earlier in July, the official said.
The final part of the pledge, 20 million euros for research into avian and pandemic influenza, is still under evaluation.
Although the avian influenza virus affects mostly wild birds, experts fear it may change into a form that can be easily transmitted among humans, sweeping the world and killing millions within weeks or months.
The H5N1 bird flu strain has caused outbreaks in more than 48 countries and territories since re-emerging in Asia three years ago, and has killed more than 130 people. ($1=.7864 euro)

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