Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tragedy in Doha -- What Next?

As I stood at the vigil thinking about the tragedy I couldn't help but recall what I said about the mall last weekend:

Friday there was a dust storm so no wandering around outdoors. I did some errands and then decided for exercise to wander around Villaggio Mall. I know, I know, Villaggio Mall on a weekend night is a nightmare of crowds and no parking. Not sure what I was thinking, maybe because it was five o'clock I figured I would get there before most of the crowd. Wrong!

The Villaggio fire was an awful, terrible tragedy -- but it also could have been even worse. Had it been the weekend, or later in the day when the amusement park would have been operating, it’s possible that dozens could have died.

A couple of months ago there was an electrical fire at City Centre Mall that even now has kept one of its food courts closed. Today there have been reports of two small fires at some schools. What next? Do we wait until there is a fire at a 40-storey skyscraper in West Bay!? Or at a hotel? Or a hospital?

His Highness the Emir has ordered an investigation into the Villaggio fire and wants a report within a week. It is my sincerest hope that the report looks beyond the direct causes or issues to uncover the broader problems. It is not enough to just conclude that fire alarms or some wiring or sprinkler systems or whatever didn’t work. How did it get that way? Why did mall management or government inspectors not spot the problems? If the fire was caused by wiring what expertise did the people have who installed it? Were any laws circumvented? Who gave approval for a nursery that apparently didn't have an independent emergency exit?

And how much do these same issues affect every other building here?

I do have faith that His Highness will enact significant changes. Some people in Qatar may scoff, noting their belief about how Qataris with influence and power don't have to follow the rules, but I honestly do not think that is usually the case. The inspectors who review grocery stores and restaurants have temporarily shut down offenders, including sections of large supermarkets. You can't tell me that a supermarket does not have a powerful and influential Qatari owner, yet the inspectors will close it all the same. That same determination can be brought to bear to deal with whatever issues the Villaggio report uncovers.

Something does need to change. If it doesn't I fear I will be attending another vigil someday.


Anonymous said...

Fire safety was always a concern of mine (and many others) in Doha, given the apparent lack of proper fire safety equipment and the shortcutting of construction practices. I think it's a miracle that there wasn't a earlier tragedy. A high rise fire in Doha in a occupied building would cause hundreds of casualties. Hopefully the tragic events in Villagio will result in tighter standards.

Glen McKay said...

News sites are reporting police arrested the nursery owner -- the daughter of a Government Minister!

Qataris I've spoken to are of the view that the Royal Family are not taking this tragedy lightly so "influence" is not going to protect anyone who could be even partly to blame for this.

We will see in a week.