Thursday, December 6

Scaling a flue epidemic

I talked earlier about how financial institutions would react to a flu or terrorist outbreak on say the communications networks. But you might very well wonder what is the probability of such a thing happening? Well, here's one opinion.

Read and Worry

THE Government's chief spook and threat watcher has warned that a repeat of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, which killed up to 100 million people, was "real". Head of the Office of National Assessments Peter Varghese said changes in the flu virus, and in the human and animal populations it could effect, raised the threat of a fresh outbreak.

"The economic, social, political and security impacts would be very large,"Mr Varghese said. The 1918 pandemic claimed up to 20 per cent of people infected by the virus and about half those were aged between 20 and 40 years.

The ONA boss told a security in government conference in Canberra yesterday that the list of issues affecting the nation's security until 2025 was "long and will keep growing". He played down the threat from climate change in the pre-2025 period, but said resource security, including oil supplies, water scarcity and fish stocks, would be massive preoccupations of governments.

"This will heighten tension among major and emerging powers, but shouldn't by itself cause war," he said. And he predicted that Australian forces would be in Afghanistan for at least 10 more years. Meanwhile ASIO boss Paul O'Sullivan used his speech to warn that "non-state actors" such as al-Qaeda would continue to be a major threat.

He said that since 9/11 al-Qaeda had created new connections between its hard core frontier militants and urban radicals throughout the world. "The existence of intricate, dynamic networks linking frontier militants . .. and small groups of urban radicals . . . has globalised insecurity in a new way," Mr O'Sullivan said.

He said al-Qaeda and the global jihad Islamic extremist movement in general had shown that it was possible for networked extremists to operate simultaneously across the globe from war-torn nations to western capital cities.

"If this situation continues the future we face will be one where significant national security threats coexist with . . . relative stability and order." The ONA boss predicted terrorism would remain a destabilising force for at least a generation and Islamic extremism would be a threat in our region for a decade.

ONA was set up in 1977 to provide the prime minister of the day and his national security ministers with independent assessments of global threats. In just his second public speech in 18 months, Mr Varghese highlighted the emergence of China and India as key strategic and military drivers for the next 20 years.

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