Heavy metals, ammonia blamed for Euphrates carp deaths: WHO

Floating dead fish are seen near the fish farms, at the Euphrates River in Mussayab district, Iraq November 2, 2018. Picture taken November 2, 2018. REUTERS/Alaa al-Marjani

CAIRO (Reuters) - The death of thousands of freshwater fish in the Euphrates river in Iraq was due to high levels of coliform bacteria, heavy metals and ammonia in the water, the World Health Organization (WHO) said.

Thousands of tonnes of freshwater carp have washed up dead this month, leaving Iraqi fish farmers reeling from the significant loss of earnings.

Carp is the country’s national dish, commonly served barbecued.

Agriculture officials had ruled out deliberate poisoning. A joint investigation by the Iraqi health ministry and WHO also revealed the contamination was not toxic to humans.

“Testing on dead fish has revealed serious issues that warranted WHO to conduct a second investigation related to probable viral infection of fish causing the death of thousands in the river. Results of the second test are due next week,” WHO said in a statement on Tuesday.

The incident illustrates worsening pollution problems in Iraq, which is struggling to provide a sufficient supply of clean water, especially in the south of the country.

Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein; editing by Jason Neely