x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Drownings raise safety concerns over quarries

Parents plead with municipality to do more to protect them after their two boys drown in an unmarked industrial pit after dark.

Saeed Ali Saeed Al Yammahi (R) who lost a son in an auto accident one and a half years ago offers his condolences to Saeed Ali Qasep Al Yammahi (L) whose two sons, Khalid, 13 and Sultan, 14 drowned in a sandpit.
Saeed Ali Saeed Al Yammahi (R) who lost a son in an auto accident one and a half years ago offers his condolences to Saeed Ali Qasep Al Yammahi (L) whose two sons, Khalid, 13 and Sultan, 14 drowned in a sandpit.

FUJAIRAH // The parents of two boys who drowned in an industrial pit that filled with rainwater have called on the municipality to take better care of their village.

Khalid al Yammahi, age 14, slipped into the unmarked pool after dark and his brother Sultan, age 15, went in to save him. Both drowned.

"Now I have lost my boys and I worry about other children because there is no sign and no protection," said Saeed, their father. "This is all because there is no sign. The municipality or the company have to put a sign to say it is dangerous for walking here. Why do they take the sand so close to the houses?"

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The village of Basira al Jabaliya is located between the mountains of Fujairah and the pit had been dug by companies quarrying rocks and sand in the area.

It was just a five-minute walk from their house.

Mr al Yammahi had asked his sons to stay home when he took his daughter to the bus station.

Inside a tent, where men came to offer condolences, all agreed that while industry was necessary the municipality should only allow it to develop in a safe manner and at a distance from villages.

Ali Mohammed, 85, the village founder, said the quarrying should be stopped in residential areas completely.

"We say to our children to stay close to the houses, but of course they will go outside and play," said Mr Mohammed. "The water is twice as deep as the height of this tent. I'm not happy with this industry. The companies must fill the holes they make."

Most of the pits were washed away with floods from the winter's rain.

"This is also the responsibility of the municipality," said Mr al Yammahi. If there is industrial work here the benefits should come to all people. Why don't they close these holes? It is not dangerous just for the village children; it's dangerous for visitors. The municipality have to put signs and close those holes."

The death of Khalid and Sultan is not the first tragedy to have struck this village.

Khalifa Khamis, age 11, fell into a smouldering rubbish dump behind a mountain near his home in January and is still receiving treatment for burns in Germany.

There are at least four such dumps between Dibba and Masafi, a distance of about 40km, where municipal, industrial and household rubbish is taken to be burnt.

They were only fenced off a few months ago.

News of the tragedy travelled quickly across the mountain villages, and residents came to pay their respects to the family in the days that followed.

"When a company finishes they should cover their work and go. They were only young boys," said Ali Mohammed, age 45, from the neighbouring village of Khalabiya.

Reaction to recover the boys' bodies was slow because of their remote location, said witnesses. None in the funeral tent could remember a time when the municipality came to check on their safety. Many in rural areas feel that they are forgotten by the municipality because of their distance.

At the same time, the isolation and independence that came with mountain life has been lost. Many villages are corralled by the industries that have come with modernity.

Residents say industry does not have to come at a cost. The village of Al Ghub, just a few kilometres down the road and in the shadow of a cement plant, is an example of how life can change with proper industry controls.

There, residents were once plagued by asthma. Now, they say, asthma rates have decreased and they can return to outside barbecues thanks to government regulations that control pollution and dust emissions.

"Our country takes very good care of us," said Mr al Yammahi. "The government pays for the schools and they worked very hard to raise my boys but because of what has happened they're gone. It is not just a loss for me, its also a loss for the country.

azacharias@thenational.ae