As thousands of sheep in Algeria are killed by disease, farmers ask, 'Where are the vaccines?'

Screengrabs of a video filmed by our Observer in Algeria, showing the dead sheep lost in an epidemic of ovine rinderpest.
Screengrabs of a video filmed by our Observer in Algeria, showing the dead sheep lost in an epidemic of ovine rinderpest.

Flocks of sheep in Algeria have been decimated by illness. Our Observer filmed videos in the Hautes Plaines region in the Atlas Mountains of Algeria, where hundreds of sheep have died in an epidemic of ovine rinderpest in the past few months. Many livestock farmers say that the authorities left them to this fate.

Since October 2018, this epidemic of ovine rinderpest has spread across 13 regional departments in Algeria, including El Bayadh, Tébessa, Béjaïa, Laghouat and Djelfa.

Ovine rinderpest is a highly infectious disease that mainly affects sheep and goats. The disease is spread by close contact between animals. It is an airborne disease, so it can be transmitted by small respiratory droplets released when an infected animal coughs or sneezes. The disease is not dangerous to people.

In 2008, several different cases were identified in Morocco. In August 2012, another small outbreak was reported in Tunisia. This is the first time, however, that this disease has been recorded in Algeria.

On January 3, our Observer Noureddine Ben Cheikh went to the home of a livestock farmer, who had lost part of his flock in the region of El Abiodh Sidi Cheikh, in the steppes in western Algeria.

This livestock farmer has lost 300 sheep since the epidemic started, a loss which totalled 4,500,000 dinars [equivalent to more than €33,000]. He told our Observer that he was angry at the government’s failure to respond to this crisis.

Our Observer Noureddine Ben Cheikh filmed this video. Here is a transcription of what the livestock farmer said: “It’s a catastrophe. We’ve received no support from the government; the authorities are absent. We went to the department of agriculture [in the region, or wilaya, of El Bayadh], but they didn’t help us. I am going to burn the [dead] sheep so that this epidemic doesn’t spread throughout my flock.”

This livestock farmer burned his dead sheep to reduce the risk of the disease spreading (as shown in the video below).

WARNING: This video contains images that some people may find upsetting. It was filmed by our Observer Noureddine Ben Cheikh.

"The epidemic has mostly spread in the Hautes Plaines region”

Our Observer, Noureddine Ben Cheikh, has spoken to many livestock farmers in the affected region.

For the past few months, ovine rinderpest has killed thousands of sheep and the livestock farmers feel as if they have been abandoned to their fate. The epidemic has especially spread in the Hautes Plaines region. I’ve been speaking to several livestock farmers, who say that they haven’t received the vaccinations that are normally delivered by vaccination centres run by the Ministry of Agriculture. Where are these vaccines?

"One vet for 500,000 sheep"

Larbi Tahar, a farmer in the El Abiodh Sidi Cheikh region, was more lucky. For the time being, none of his sheep have succumbed to the disease – he believes this is because he was able to isolate his flock in an enclosure. He says that farmers in his region have not had enough support in dealing with this devastating epidemic.

To keep my sheep from mixing with those belonging to other farmers, I keep them in their own enclosure. I also avoid bringing them to the pastures because I don’t want them to come into contact with other farmers' sheep.

I went to the veterinary centre run by the Ministry of Agriculture a few days ago and they told me that there were no available vaccines. In our region, there is only one veterinarian for an estimated 500,000 sheep. And he doesn’t even have a car.

In the region of Chréa, which is about 60 kilometres south of Algiers, a group of livestock farmers blocked a road with the bodies of dead sheep to protest the government’s failure to develop an emergency plan to contain this disease.

WARNING: These videos contain images that some people may find upsetting. The top video shows the roadblock started by angry farmers. The second video shows livestock farmers burying the sheep killed by this epidemic.

The authorities maintain that they have taken measures against the ovine rinderpest epidemic. The Ministry of Agriculture announced that about 3,000 sheep had died of the disease. In late December 2018, the Ministry announced that they had allocated 400 million Algerian dinars (around €3 million) to buy vaccines. On January 9, however, many livestock farmers, including those in El Abiodh Sidi Cheikh, had still not received the vaccinations, according to Observer Ben Cheikh.

The Ministry of Agriculture announced that weekly markets would be closed until January 25.

Unlike the authorities, a veterinarians' union does not think the situation is under control.

“The authorities need to distribute 25 million vaccines in the next 15 days, otherwise eight million more sheep will die,” said the organisation’s spokesperson, Najib Dahmane, in a press statement.

The France 24 Observers team contacted the Ministry of Agriculture to find out more about the measures taken to control the epidemic and will publish their response when we receive it.