A deadly new and virulent fungus capable of affecting wheat crop has been detected in Iran, a major cereal growing area in West Asia. The fungus was previously found in East Africa and Yemen and has now moved to Iran, according to Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). The fungus is capable of destroying entire fields of wheat crop. The report could further push up global wheat prices by at least 10-15 per cent. In the spot retail market, wheat prices have surged by 40 per cent in last one year on global shortage. Countries such as Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, all major wheat producers, are most threatened by the fungus and should be on high alert as the fungus can travel to these areas thus affecting the entire output, FAO said. It is estimated that as much as 80 per cent of all wheat varieties planted in Asia and Africa are susceptible to the wheat stem rust (Puccinia graminis). The spores of wheat rust are mostly carried by wind over long distances and across continents. "The detection of the fungus in Iran is very worrisome,' said Shivaji Pandey, director of FAO's plant production and protection division. According to the Iran government, the fungus has been detected in some localities in Broujerd and Hamedan in western Iran. Laboratory tests have confirmed the presence of the fungus. The fungus first emerged in Uganda in 1999 and is therefore called Ug99. The wind-borne transboundary pest subsequently spread to Kenya and Ethiopia. In 2007, an FAO mission confirmed for the first time that Ug99 has affected wheat fields in Yemen. The Ug99 strain found in Yemen was more virulent than the one found in East Africa. Ethiopia and Kenya had serious wheat rust epidemics in 2007 with considerable yield losses. Global wheat production is estimated at 603 million tonnes in 2007, up 1.2 per cent from 2006. In Asia, the output is estimated to rise by 1.7 per cent to 928 million tonnes in 2007 compared with 912.6 million tonnes last year. Global wheat prices have strengthened since December. Tight export supplies amid strong demand continued to provide support to cereal markets. International grain prices benefited from the weak US dollar, which increases the demand for the US wheat, and a sharp decline in freight rates, which helped accelerating purchasing activities by several countries in recent weeks. Export restrictions by China and the Russian Federation coupled with the closure of the export registry in Argentina also provided support.

More than 12,000 people have fled their homes in Kazakhstan after rain-swollen rivers swept away houses and bridges, the emergencies ministry said on Tuesday. Spring flooding is a recurring problem across Central Asia but a sudden rise in temperatures on Feb. 20 following weeks of severe cold has exacerbated the problem this year. One person was killed in the floods and 12,700 others had to be evacuated from Kazakhstan's most populous region bordering Uzbekistan, the ministry said. Melt water destroyed roads and schools and killed hundreds of cattle as rivers burst their banks. The emergencies ministry said its rescue teams, equipped with boats and diving gear, were working to contain floods and assess the situation. People were being evacuated to safe areas but it was unclear when they would be able to return home. A total of 2,000 houses have been destroyed. (Writing by Maria Golovnina; Editing by Elizabeth Piper) REUTERS NEWS SERVICE

As wheat prices soar across Central Asia, officials in Kazakhstan, the region's key grain supplier, have resorted to controlling exports to stem rising domestic costs. Experts fear the move will

As the cleanup of the decade-old mercury pollution in Nura river started in Kazakhstan, environmentalists emphasised the need for extreme caution. Mercury had been discharged in the river over many

Kazakhstan has warned ArcelorMittal, the world's biggest steel company, that it could be forced to close one of its coal mines if it does not improve safety following an explosion last month that killed 30 people. Vladimir Bozhko, head of Kazakhstan's ministry of emergencies, has given the company one month to draw up a plan to introduce 41 safety reforms at its Abaiskaya mine in central Kazakhstan.

Camel experts from research institutions and non-government organisations in India, France, Germany, Kazakhstan, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and the UK met at the training centre of Lokhit Pashu-Palak Sansthan near Mammaji-ki-dhuni at Sadri, District Pali, Rajasthan, India, on 23-25 November 2004, and came up with the following recommendations:

• Urgently investigate how to restore sufficient pastureland for camels in order to halt the decline in camel numbers.

• Ukraine and Turkmenistan are going to propose the establishment of a consortium with Russia and Kazakhstan for transporting gas to Europe.

Talks Between Two Sides To Focus On Oil And Civil Nuclear Cooperation

EXTERNAL affairs minister S M Krishna is going on a three-day visit to oil-rich Kazakhstan on Tuesday. The two sides will hold discussions on finalising an agreement on the Satpayev oil block.

Energy-starved India, armed with permission to buy atomic fuel from around the world after the end of a three-decade ban, is courting new partners alongside old friends in its global hunt for uranium.

Children in parts of Siberia near the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan are suffering serious health problems due to pollution caused by unburned rocket fuel. This fuel is sprayed by rockets launched