Health officials reported 825 displaced people suffered from food poisoning on June 13, 2017. File photo: Rudaw
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – A long wait between food preparation and delivery coupled with the hot weather was the main cause of the food poisoning that affected 825 displaced people from Mosul in a camp earlier this month, Erbil’s governor said.
Nawzad Hadi revealed on Monday the results of an investigation into the food poisoning in Hassansham U2 camp, ruling out any “intentional” factor by the parties involved in the mass food poisoning last week.
“The main reason was keeping it [for a long] time and temperature,” Hadi told reporters in Erbil. He explained that the food was prepared at 9:00 in the morning and then was delivered in plastic containers to the displaced people in the camp for iftar, the meal after sunset when Muslims break their Ramadan fast.
The meal was beans, rice, chicken, and a yogurt drink brought from a restaurant in Erbil. Most of those affected were children and elderly, complaining of vomiting and stomachache.
Hadi said the findings by the Erbil health department revealed that the bacteria staphylococci infected the food, especially the chicken, in the hot summer weather.
Seven people have been arrested since the incident. Six were from Dunya restaurant, where the food was cooked, and the seventh person was from the British charity organization Help the Needy.
RAF, a Qatari charity, financed the food delivery through the British organization.
Head of Erbil’s health department Dr Saman Barzinji told the reporters on Monday that the outbreak could have been prevented if the British charity organization had refrigerated the food when bringing it to the camp.
The governor said they would present their findings to the court in order to take measures against those responsible. He however insisted that the incident was not an “intentional” act by any party and a “mistake” had occurred.
He commended the work of health professionals who responded to the outbreak, even Peshmerga and security forces in the area who helped transfer those affected to the nearby hospital in Khabat, the closest to the camp, and hospitals in Erbil.
Dr Barzinji said that they put forward three recommendations in light of the incident, including requiring charity organizations and those who want to help people in the camps to partner with governmental institutions and camp organizers instead of seeking non-governmental ones. He also recommended that those found guilty of negligence should pay some compensation for the resources used to treat the affected people.
He revealed that they had spent more than 95 million Iraqi Dinars (about $81,000) to provide medicine in response to the outbreak.
Governor Hadi said that the central government of Iraq has not provided any material support to the Kurdish government as a response to the outbreak, maintaining that they just “talk” without any action.
The Iraqi health ministry stated a day after the incident on June 14 that they sent some medicine to help treat the patients.
Despite its initial reporting of fatalities, the health department in Erbil later clarified that nobody died from the food poisoning.
Governor Hadi said at the time that the food was takeaway from the restaurant, though regulations stipulate that all food served in the camp should be cooked on site where there are big kitchens.
Rzgar Obed, a camp organizer, confirmed to Rudaw last Thursday that takeaway food will no longer be an option for people and charity organizations who want to help the people in need.
The restaurant and the British organization have each blamed the each other over the incident.
Iraq’s minister for migration and the displaced, Darbaz Mohammed, told reporters last Wednesday during a visit to the affected camp that without the coordination and commitment of health officials in Erbil, people may have died.
The Hassansham U2 camp was opened by the UNHCR, the UN's refugee agency, in May. It is some 30 km east of Mosul and has the capacity to accommodate 9,000 people.
The UNHCR opened the camp to receive displaced people from western Mosul where Iraqi forces have been fighting ISIS militants since February.
More than half a million people have fled the fighting in western Mosul, according to Iraqi and UN figures.