Cholera Outbreak in Northern Iraq Overwhelms Hospitals

September 2nd, 2007 - by admin

Asso Ahmed,Tina Susman / Los Angeles Times – 2007-09-02 08:11:34

Cholera Kills Up to 10,Overwhelms Hospitals

SULAYMANIYA, Iraq (September 1, 2007) — A cholera outbreak in northern Iraq, where thousands of people have sought refuge from sectarian violence, is overwhelming hospitals and has killed up to 10 people, health officials said Friday.

The cities of Sulaymaniya and Kirkuk have been affected by the outbreak, which is seen as the latest example of the deterioration of living conditions and displacement caused by the ongoing conflict.

At least 1,773 Iraqi civilians died in war-related violence in August, according to Iraqi government statistics released Friday, the third consecutive month in which civilian deaths rose despite the recent American troop buildup.

Cholera, a waterborne disease, has struck more than 80 people in the two cities, which are about 100 miles apart, said Claire Hajaj of UNICEF. She said five deaths had been confirmed as cholera and another five deaths were suspected cholera cases.

Earlier this year, aid agencies warned of the potential for a cholera outbreak as Iraq, its infrastructure shattered by war and neglect, entered the blazing summer months.

Cholera tends to appear in the summer because of the heightened need for water. With water-treatment plants in disrepair because of age and war-related damage, and often unable to function because of power shortages, the likelihood of exposure to contaminated water increases.

That was evident Wednesday at a squalid encampment outside Sulaymaniya, where several hundred people were living in makeshift tents that were little more than worn blankets draped over wooden frames. Girls and women lined up to fill containers from a tanker distributing water.

“We drink from this water, whether it’s drinkable or not,” said Zahra Jabbar Kadhim.

A nurse from the Kurdistan Health Organization, Abdul Karim, said the camp, which has neither trash-disposal facilities nor a sewage system, was a breeding ground for disease.

The International Organization for Migration said in its latest assessment of Iraq’s internal displacement problem that more than 70,000 people had fled to northern Iraq from other parts of the country this year, most of them to escape violence.

Dr. Sabbah Amin, director of the Kirkuk Health Department, announced measures to fight cholera, including closing public swimming pools, banning street vendors from selling food and drinks, and testing ice and soft drink factories.

Northern Iraq has not previously been immune to violence, but it has not been affected by the war nearly to the extent as Baghdad and nearby Diyala and Anbar provinces. This has made the northern area a destination for tens of thousands of people seeking security.

Still, violence Friday in Kirkuk was a reminder of the dangers across Iraq. Police said gunmen shot to death a barber in his shop in the northern part of the city. It was the ninth slaying of a barber in the city this year by Islamic militants who oppose Western haircuts and grooming styles.

In Anbar, police reported a fierce battle between Sunni tribesmen and suspected insurgents near the town of Haditha, 130 miles northwest of Baghdad. Three tribesmen and six insurgent attackers were reported killed.

On Wednesday, a U.S. soldier and a Marine were killed in fighting in the province, the military said Friday.

Also Friday, Iraq’s Shiite prime minister said hard-line Sunni clerics outside Iraq share the blame for this week’s bloodshed at a Shiite religious festival in Karbala because they issued religious decrees terming Shiites heretics.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki did not spell out how comments by Sunni clerics – presumed to be mostly from Saudi Arabia – could have provoked fierce battles Tuesday among rival Shiite militias, which claimed up to 51 lives. Iraq’s majority Shiites widely believe that Sunni clerics in Saudi Arabia have stoked sectarian tensions by preaching against Shiites.

But his remarks appeared to suggest that security guards around the city’s Imam Hussein and Imam Abbas mosques may have overreacted, fearing an all-out attack on the shrines by Sunni extremists mingled into a crowd of pilgrims who approached chanting anti-government slogans.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

© 2007 Hearst Communications Inc.

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