Health

Risk of bioweapon attack growing, Dutch defense minister says

MUNICH — The world could face a large-scale bioweapon attack within “the next 10 to 15 years,” the defense minister of the Netherlands warned.

“The threat is real, this is not a script for a film,” Ank Bijleveld said Saturday evening on the sidelines of this year’s Munich Security Conference, one of the world’s biggest gatherings of security and defense policymakers and experts.

Bijlevel, a member of the centrist Christian Democratic Appeal party, said that the technology for creating biological weapons had advanced dramatically in recent years, while at the same time “the international community continues to underestimate this risk.”

Proliferation watchdogs like U.S.-based Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) have repeatedly warned of bio attacks, in which assailants release lethal viruses, bacteria, or other germs to weaken or kill their victims. Such attacks, NTI estimates, would have the potential to kill millions of people, cause damage worth billions of euros and lead to further unrest in unstable regions.

However, most countries remain unprepared for both such acts of bioterrorism and naturally occurring pandemics, Bijleveld warned in Munich.

“Countries that are the least prepared are the most likely to be struck,” she said.

At the same time, the risk of biological catastrophes is set to increase further in the years to come because of increasing global travel, trade and urbanization, said Jeremy Farrar, the director of London-based biomedical charity Wellcome Trust.

“Those infections which once may have died out in rural communities are now posing risks that are unprecedented in the huge urban conglomerations of Africa and Asia,” Farrar said, responding to Bijlevel’s comments.

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