x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Another tragedy that could have been avoided

The recurring tragedy of children falling from tower blocks should focus us all on some useful and simple possible remedies.

Like a recurring nightmare, another child has died in a fall from a tower block. After each such tragedy - and there had been three in the UAE in just the two weeks before this case - voices across the country, including this newspaper's, have called out for attention to this problem before further lives are lost. Yesterday's headline, Fourth child dies in tower block fall, drove home the cruel impotence of all those good intentions.

It is simply a statistical quirk that these accidents all took place in Sharjah. And the sudden frequency of these fatal falls may be connected to the cool temperatures of the season, which mean many windows and balcony doors are now being left open.

But the one other common element in the four deaths - and in earlier ones - is uglier: all were avoidable. The concentration of cases has now generated a level of public and official concern which may facilitate quick action to make these awful deaths rarer in the future.

This is primarily an issue for parents. But developers, landlords and municipalities all have responsibility as well. In some residential buildings, for example, flats have windows with latches that allow an opening of only about 10 centimetres; no child old enough to be mobile could squeeze through such an opening. Even when these latches are required for new construction, however, existing housing too often has windows that open wide. Many balcony doors, meanwhile, open in accordance with the old saying "it's so easy a child could do it", a boast which in this context chills the blood.

For windows and doors alike, latches can be retrofitted at a reasonable expense. Landlords must be required to have such devices installed whenever a tenant requests them, or to allow tenants to install them. Here retailers too can help, as a reader notes in a letter to the editor today.

Public education, through paediatricians' offices for example, could warn parents of the risks, and inform them about available remedies.

Municipal governments meanwhile can also help by facilitating speedy installation of safety latches on a flat-by-flat basis; insisting that a whole building be modified at once is too often a recipe for inaction.

The world is a perilous place for children. Quick action on simple solutions could tame at least this one hazard.