Yes, the recent cases and deaths in the past week in Indonesia make us wonder if we're on the verge of another uptick in human H5N1 infections. But the trouble I'm thinking of involves the response to those deaths.
From the Jakarta Post, (via Crofsblog H5N1 Blog):
JAKARTA (JP): Following the rapid increase of bird flu fatalities early this year, Jakarta administration decides to ban backyard farming among its residents without providing compensation to poultry owners.
The administration gives the owners of chickens, ducks, swans, pigeons and quails, two weeks to consume these fowls properly, sell them, or to simply destroy them from residential areas.
Only those owners with fowls infected with H5N1 virus would receive compensation as much as Rp 12,500 (US$1.5) per chicken or bird.
Starting February, the Husbandry and Fishery Agency would conduct door-to-door inspection and destroy these fowls forcefully without any compensation to residents.
"I hope all Jakartans could support this policy until the government declares that our region is free from bird flu. This is all for our own good," Governor Sutiyoso said Wednesday after leading a bird flu meeting, which also attended by officials from Health Ministry and the National Commission for Bird Flu.
Jakartans may still keep birds and fowls for hobby and research purposes but owners have to attain health certificate from local offices of the Husbandry and Fishery Agency, free of charge.
The agency would also destroy these pet birds if owners refuse to proceed the certificates.
The agency estimated that about half of 2,684 neighboring units in the city are populated with fouls. Each neighboring unit averagely resides about 1,000 fouls.
There are problems with this policy, not the least of which is that it deprives people of property, and not just "property," but a source of livelihood for many. Granted, something needs to done in response to (what is widely seen as) the threat of a pandemic emerging from H5N1 activity in Indonesia. And by proposing such a policy, the government is clearly seen to be "doing something." But this far from the best option. Even if it were to be successfully implemented (which I suspect would be exceedingly difficult), it's guaranteed to raise the ire of Indonesian citizens.
And if the above isn't convincing, we should consider the "perverse incentive" problem. The options facing farmers right now seem to be: (1) Try to sell your chickens before the ban goes into effect--the price of chicken will drop sharply (because everybody is rushing to sell at the same time). (2) Try to hold on to your chickens--they'll get slaughtered and you'll receive nothing in return. (3) Infect your birds with H5N1--they'll get slaughtered, but at least you'll be compensated for your trouble (I can't be sure, but the payout is probably a rate tied to the current market price of chicken). I'm no economist, but it seems to me that we might expect that at least some portion of the population is going to go for option #3. Thus increasing farmers' contact with infected birds. Thus increasing the risk of human H5N1 infection. And remember, this isn't going on in a remote village, but rather Indonesia's capital city (population 8.79 million, and according to Wikipedia, the ninth most densely populated city in the world).