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Saturday, September 18, 2021

Fire, building safety in Qatar dubious at best, NU-Q in-depth report finds

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During the next decade, Qatar will pour billions of dollars and countless man hours into developing the country in time for the 2022 World Cup.

Amid media reports of the nation’s ambitious undertakings and criticism of the human toll of the projects, journalism students at Northwestern University in Qatar probed the safety implications of this rapid development in an in-depth report called Qatar Under Construction.

With the Villaggio fire that killed 19 people fresh in Doha’s consciousness, and the trial to determine criminal responsibility ongoing, the students sought to find out just how safe Qatar’s public spaces and private residences are. Here is some of the information that they found:

  • Qatar has not yet developed an official fire safety and building code, Civil Defense officials told the group. Instead, it relies on various US and UK standards when approving blueprints for construction projects. Here’s the process. 
  • Last year, 22 fire-related deaths occurred in Qatar, including the 19 from the Villaggio fire, Ministry of Interior figures showed. The cause of 91 percent of the 1,192 fires that took place, including in malls, medical facilities and cars, remain undetermined. 
  • Finding fires is just as important as putting them out. To improve emergency response times, Qatar has been working with technology company Consolidated Gulf Co. to establish a Centralized Alarm Monitoring System. CAMS reports and transmits information detected from the triggered alarm to a control room that locate the fire and inform Civil Defense within three minutes. More details here.
  • Regarding construction safety, the occupational death rate in Qatar is five per 100,000 people, compared to 3.5 workers and .6 workers per 100,000 people in the US and UK, respectively. When interviewed by NU-Q, laborers at some companies in Qatar reported not receiving any safety training on the job, nor proper equipment, including helmets, safety shoes and harnesses. One worker said he came to Qatar hoping to send money back to his family, and now just prays he’ll get home alive.
  • Some of Qatar’s oldest buildings are sturdier than the structures going up today, according to Awni Najim, a health and safety coordinator at the Lusail City development project. The reason: Priority is placed on aesthetics over safety.
  • In terms of solutions, Najim said: “There is no one theory to get to the root of this problem. It’s all of these factors coming together: good training, increased inspections, strict punishments to those who do no adhere to the rules and by giving importance to each life that comes in to live in this country.”

Though Villaggio re-opened to the public three months after the fire, students produced a video questioning whether safety standards have been improved there and whether Civil Defense has the ability and will to ensure buildings in Qatar are up to code:

Another video, regarding construction worker safety, can be found here.

Thoughts?

Credit: Photo by Saif Alnuweiri. More related photos here.

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