Cholera in Iraqi Kurdistan has caused four deaths and put thousands in hospital. It’s the third outbreak in ten years and locals are asking why nothing is being done about pollution in a local lake that’s thought to be causing the disease.
Although health officials in the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan say they’re not going to announce an official public health emergency, there is no doubt that locals have felt like they’ve been having one for the past fortnight. In particular the people of Sulaymaniyah are concerned - their city is the one most affected by a new cholera outbreak.
Official figures from Iraqi Kurdistan’s Ministry of Health indicate that there are more than 1,800 cases of patients with diarrhoea and vomiting being treated in Sulaymaniyah’s hospitals. By Oct. 8, local hospitals themselves confirmed 202 definite cases of cholera out the potential 1,800 cases, with a suspected four deaths resulting.
The cholera outbreak, the second in five years in the region, seems to have started with patients in Sulaymaniyah presenting symptoms on Sept. 26. Other cases have since been reported in cities further away such as Kirkuk, where there are around 15 cases.
Cholera bacteria are spread through contaminated food or water and the disease usually spreads further when infected faeces get into drinking water. Once infected, patients die of dehydration due to sudden and copious vomiting and diarrhoea.
In Iraqi Kurdistan, Lake Dukan, about 60km west of Sulaymaniyah is suspected to be the cause of the spread of cholera. Lake Dukan is one of the biggest lakes in Iraq and its reservoirs provide drinking water for more than 1.5 million people in surrounding areas. Some water purification plants in Kirkuk also use Lake Dukan’s water.
And as the outbreak began, an announcement by the chief of Sulaymaniyah’s Health Department, Miran Mohammed, confirmed that cholera bacteria had been found in samples taken from the lake.
Additionally almost all of the sewage from surrounding areas ends up in Lake Dukan. Water department officials say that all the lake water that is pumped back to Sulaymaniyah’s householders is treated and has chlorine added to sterilize it.
“But some people also use water from local wells alongside water from Lake Dukan,” Amanj Jalal, a spokesperson for Sulaymaniyah’s water department told NIQASH. “We cannot rule out the possibility that the wells are the source of the outbreak. We’re ensuring that the water we provide is sterilized and we’re also adding more chlorine to the water.”