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Dr Rajah Madhewoo

My professional view as Fellow of the Royal Institute of Public Health on the issue of biscuit and water during a cyclone!

Firstly note that I am not a fan of Hon Sinatambou and herewith an assessed opinion after all the Hu Ha that has been going on since the arrival of Bergitta and its departure. This is not a political view but a professional view.


1. Cost of biscuits is more elevated than Bread. A good packet of sweet biscuit is no less that Rs 60.00 compared to bread at Rs 2.50 each. 

2. Bottle water eases the issue of boiling where electric kettle fails due to electric power shortage or if open fire not being possible. It is easy to store as well as to consume.

3. It is absolutely wrong to provide Briani or cooked meals or bread with various fillings for the following reasons:-

(a) Briani is a very fragile type of food that will go bad after 12 hrs if not kept refrigerated or frozen. Obviously facilities for such storage are not available in these circumstances. Hence such meals will have to be consumed immediately; hence it cannot be stored for later use if and when the weather worsens.

Rice has a tendency to breed Clostridium Welchi whilst chicken will breed Salmonella. Both will give rise to food poisoning with symptoms of Belly aches, diarrhea and vomiting. Elderly and young children may even die.

(b) Similarly bread filled with meats, salad creams, eggs will easily breed Salmonella with symptoms already mentioned if not eaten immediately. These food cannot be stored in the open.

(c) For all those kind hearted people who have distributed cooked meals, God forbid, but should people had fallen ill after food consumption, you would have had yourselves committing an offence especially if you do not hold a certificate of food handlers and distribution. If a number of people fell sick, there would have been added pressure for transferring each casualty to hospitals in such weather. You will note that Bergitta stopped at class three, and could have worsened. If whilst delivering food during a cyclone that gets worse ,helpers get drowned or injured , who will take responsibility as no insurance would have covered them ?

Why was biscuit and water chosen?

During international disasters this is the most favored consumable items. Although they cost more, they are of high calorific values and they can last for many days and will not go bad easily. They will last until bad weather conditions get improved. They are easy on the stomach and have less health risks. They can be easily stored and reduce the number of helpers and reduce risks to others. Clean water is essential as during cyclones, adequate filtration of water fails. When boiling cannot be done, bottled water is the best.

On a final note, those people in a board meeting who had voted for the consumption of such food during cyclones were not silly. It was well thought of. It may not be a 5 star Meal but in disastrous weather conditions this is ideal. LESS RISK to take you over a period until the weather gets back to normal.

Above all, during class one and class two, victims should cater for such types of meals well in advance and take with them well before any other assistance arrive. After all saving lives are the fundamental issues. Be glad that you came out of such calamities healthy and not dead or injured! I sincerely hope that such meals are nor changed because of pressure. E.g. packets of instant noodles may not be appropriate as boiling water may not be available.

Biscuits and water are emergency aids and a survival kit. It should not all be consumed fast either. It should be spread over and saved until adverse weather conditions improve.

Dr M. Rajah Madhewoo 


[Fellow of the Royal Institute of Public Health and Hygiene]