There's a real tragedy unfolding in India--one big enough to merit a repost and an update from yesterday. On Tuesday, dozens of kids were sickened after eating lunch at their school in the northern state of Bihar. So far, at least 23 kids have died, and several more are still sick. Now, the AP (via HuffPo) reports the food may have been tainted with insecticide.
Authorities discovered a container of insecticide in the school's cooking area next to the vegetable cooking oil and mustard oil, but it wasn't yet known if that container was the source, according to Amarjeet Sinha, a top official in the state of Bihar, where the tragedy took place.Doctors believe the food contained organophosphate, a chemical commonly used in insecticide. While current official figures say 23 kids have died, several parents told The Times of India (the equivalent of our New York Times here) that as many as 27 have died.
Some officials have said it appeared that the rice had somehow been tainted with insecticide and might not have been properly washed before it was cooked.
"It's not a case of food poisoning. It's a case of poison in food in a large quantity, going by the instant deaths," Sinha said.
India's school lunch program is the largest in the world, feeding over 120 million kids. For many of them, this is their only real chance all day to have a nutritious meal. And yet, this has several kids so spooked that they're turning the meal down. It's also sparked an uproar in the area. The parents of 19 of the kids buried their loved ones and around the school grounds as a reminder of what they see as a colossal fail on the government's part. They've also vandalized the school, burned cars and blocked trains from going through. And just today, students at another school complained to government officials about the quality of their lunch, and beat up several teachers who came to tell their side of the story.
As if this couldn't get horrifying enough, authorities are looking into the possibility that this may have been an act of negligent homicide. Back to the AP ...
Police were searching for the principal, who fled after the students started falling sick, Sinha said.According to the BBC, the oil was bought at a grocery store run by the headmistress' husband. One of the cooks noticed discoloration in the oil, but the headmistress said it was safe. The husband and all of the men in the family have also fled.
The cooks, Manju Devi and Pano Devi, told The Associated Press that the principal controlled the food for the free daily lunch provided by the government at the school. On Tuesday morning, she gave them rice, potatoes, soy and other ingredients needed to prepare the meal and then went about her business. As the children ate, they started fainting, the cooks said.
Sinha said one of the cooks told authorities that the cooking oil appeared different than usual, but the principal told her to use it anyway.
An inquiry into this tragedy is well underway. I'm looking for ways that we can help somehow ... any tips?