Arab Gulf super highrise lifestyle is killing kids

falls from balconiesA fall from a stepladder can kill you, so what’s your chance of surviving a topple from a high-rise building? Earlier this month, a 9-year-old Syrian girl fell to her death from the eighth floor of her family’s Abu Dhabi apartment. In Sharjah last week a 4-year-old boy died after falling from a window. What’s going to make this terrible tragedy stop?

The municipality in Abu Dhabi doesn’t track lethal falls and so cannot determine whether new building regulations have decreased accidents. There is also scant intel on whether landlords have been penalized for safety breaches.

Every year across the United Arab Emirates (UAE) children die from injuries sustained in falls off balconies and through windows.

Abu Dhabi municipality has kicked off an awareness campaign aimed at stopping these horrific accidents. But can posters prevent the next grim headline?

“In the future we will have, Insha’Allah, zero kids falling down,” said Abdulaziz Zurub, director of health, safety and environment at Abu Dhabi Municipality.

In the USA and EU, life safety measures are typically incorporated into building codes, often of a consistent – and internationally benchmarked – standard.

Newly developed codes across the UAE vary, post-construction compliance is spottily verified, and enforcement weak.

In Abu Dhabi, residential building owners must install safety locks on windows that open more than 10 centimeters and with windowsills within1.5 meters off the floor.  Owners are not quick to comply; recent inspection showed that at least one company – Abu Dhabi Commercial Properties – was still installing locks, two years after the rules came into effect. “It’s not acceptable,” Eissa Al Mansoori, acting building permits director at the municipality, told the National.

But, clearly it is acceptable – as noncompliance continues.

Building codes are not enough.  Responsibility lies with families and the wider community to raise awareness of the dangers, to become vigilant about demanding safety measures, and – most critically – to enforce them.

Officials conduct random building inspections and find that residents often circumvent the safety devices – perhaps inadvertently.  Parents place furniture beside windows enabling children to access unlocked openings. Tenants often remove locks; undoing the child-proofing for adult convenience drastically increases the risks for kids.

So the municipality is kicking off a targeted poster campaign, placing signs near tower block elevators with information on how to contact authorities about problems in their homes that could result in children falling.

“We believe strongly that we will receive a lot of calls from families to support them,” said Zurub.

Dr. Taisser Atrak, head of pediatrics at Mafraq Hospital, has campaigned on child safety issues, stating that educators, officials and pediatricians should spread awareness about the risks. “Health authorities in Abu Dhabi have made a home-safety brochure that should be available in every clinic, school and high-rise building,” he told the National, “These aggressive campaigns will make a difference,” he said, “No child should fall from any building, anywhere.”

Got windows, balconies and sliding doors where you live?  Make time – now – to childproof them. Then pay it forward, and get your friends and family to do the same. Seriously – a minimal amount of prevention can eliminate maximal heartache.

Image of a high-end apartment balcony overlooking Dubai from Shutterstock

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One thought on “Arab Gulf super highrise lifestyle is killing kids”

  1. Jacob Sun says:

    I have a small child and for the last year I was terrified of the thought of such fatal falls happening. Then recently I was so happy when a facilities company, EMCC, installed safety locks on our apartment windows (a building managed by ADCP). Helps me sleep better at night knowing that my child cannot easily open those dangerous windows! I urge all the building owners and property management companies to do the same (as required by the law) and do the right thing to protect their tenants as some of these windows are so dangerous even adults can fall through!

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