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Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Questions about labor camp safety raised after deadly Qatar fire

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Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Nearly three days after a fire ripped through a housing complex near the Qatar-Saudi Arabia border, many questions remain about the incident and whether such tragedies can be prevented from happening again.

Government officials have not commented further since announcing that 11 people died in a blaze Wednesday night in the Al Areeq region of the country.

An investigation into what caused the blaze is now underway.

The men who died were employed to work on a new massive waterfront resort roughly 100km outside of Doha. The project includes the Hilton Beach Resort hotel and is expected to open by the end of 2019.

Hilton Salwa beach resort rendering
Hilton Salwa beach resort rendering

In a statement to Doha News, a Hilton spokesperson said the company was “saddened” to hear what happened. She added:

“We understand this fire happened off-site, however can confirm that the tourism project is a large mixed use development that is currently in the hands of the contractor, Al Ali Engineering Contracting & Trading Est.

Hilton does not manage the tourism project but will ultimately operate a hotel within this broader development. Hilton Salwa will be handed to Hilton on completion by the owning company, to operate. We have however contacted the site managers and they have advised that an investigation is underway.”

Al Ali Engineering has not yet responded to a request for comment.

According to the MOI, 12 people were hospitalized for fire-related injuries, but their status remains unclear.

A Hamad Medical Corp. (HMC) spokeswoman could not comment on the injured, referring all questions to the Ministry of Interior (MOI).

The nationalities of the victims are not yet known.

Safety questions

Fires are a regular occurrence in Qatar, especially during the hot months.

Most are started by electrical short circuits, in old and new projects alike, including a blaze that shut down the Caravan complex at Ramada signal in April and a fire that erupted at the under-construction Mall of Qatar a day later.

April Mall of Qatar fire
April Mall of Qatar fire

However, the country hasn’t since a blaze this deadly since 2012, when 19 people died of smoke inhalation after getting trapped in Villaggio mall.

Since then, officials have taken several steps to improve fire safety in Qatar. But many residents said this week’s fire should still serve as a wakeup call to authorities.

On Facebook, commenter Mehreteab Beyene said:

“This time it’s almost in our doorstep. Always ‘Fire, fire and fire….’ – I don’t know and I don’t understand why there’s always fire accidents in Qatar. Why??

Meanwhile, online reaction to the blaze has been mixed, with many calling for safety improvements to be made to Qatar’s labor camps.

However, some countered by saying the men inside the housing complex should also do their part to avoid starting fires.

On Facebook, commenter Haley Snook said:

“It is an endless battle getting labourers to follow HSE rules. I know first hand. They aren’t monitored 24/7 and there are literally thousands of cases where the accommodations and equipment are regulated and up to code but the occupants don’t comply.

They steal batteries from alarms, don’t report damage when it occurs between maintenance checks, overload junctions and sockets, cook in bedrooms when they have allocated kitchen space, smoke and drink all night, etc etc.”

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