ROME - Iraq and the United Nations launched a campaign Monday to vaccinate nearly one million livestock in the Mosul area over fears the animals may be carrying diseases, as they have not been vaccinated since Islamic State seized the city in 2014.
In late July, Iraqi security forces wrested back control of Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, three years after Islamic State had declared it the de facto capital of its "caliphate".
"If immediate measures are not taken, the effects on livestock production and food security could be devastating," Fadel El-Zubi, representative for the UN's food agency in Iraq, said in a statement.
If the livestock are carrying highly contagious epidemic diseases, they could "spread rapidly across national and international borders to other herds and people," the statement by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) added.
The diseases that could spread include brucellosis, a bacterial disease transmitted to humans through contaminated or unpasteurized milk of infected animals, and foot and mouth disease, a highly contagious and sometimes fatal disease affecting hoofed animals but not a direct threat to humans.
Nearly a million civilians fled Mosul during Islamic State's rule and the nine-month offensive to recapture the northern city, according to the United Nations.
The livestock to be vaccinated are nearly one million sheep, goats, cattle and buffalo belonging to 210,000 Sunni Muslim herders who were living in Islamic State's strongholds in the area, said Paul Schlunke, FAO's senior emergency response coordinator in Iraq.
These herders rely on livestock for food and income but are in areas where there is no natural fodder for the animals. They are unable to travel to access feed due to sectarian tensions, he said.
"If they lose their livestock, they lose their livelihoods, they lose their source of food security," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Iraq.
Over the next two to three months, FAO will be providing the vaccines for Iraq's Ministry of Agriculture to vaccinate the animals against six diseases. In addition, some 60,000 animals would also receive high-nutrient feeds.
Some 12 million Iraqis - about a third of the population - live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for their livelihoods with cattle, goats and sheep raised for meat, wool, milk and skin production, according to the FAO.
Years of conflict in Iraq have had devastating effects on the agricultural sector, with harvests, equipment, livestock, seeds and stored food destroyed or damaged, it added.