x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Naif replacement souk opens early

The temporary replacement to the Naif Souk, devastated by fire three months ago, has been officially opened.

Traders began moving into the temporary souk last week.
Traders began moving into the temporary souk last week.

DUBAI // Shopkeepers whose livelihoods were destroyed in April's devastating Naif Souk fire received compensation this week, as Dubai Municipality announced the temporary replacement market was "ready to receive the public". The new souk, which is 500 metres away from the original market and includes the same number of shops, also "provides the most suitable shopping atmosphere" that "preserves the old heritage aspect and nature of the original souk," said Hussan Nasser Lootah, the acting director general of Dubai Municipality. Mr Lootah said the municipality had built the souk in 45 days, ahead of the scheduled 60 days.

Investigators said the early-morning fire in April began after an air-conditioning unit in one of the stores short-circuited. The fire ravaged what was once Dubai's oldest and most popular souk, which housed about 200 shops. The damage to property came to about Dh1 billion (US$270m) and more than 184 shops selling textiles, electronics, toys and spices were destroyed. Two firemen were seriously injured, while a third suffered from smoke inhalation. More than half of the 600 workers were given compensation of Dh1,000 by the Red Crescent Society in Dubai and several received aid from Indian welfare groups.

The municipality, which owns and manages the souk, has also promised compensation for the victims of the fire, even though almost none of the buildings were insured. Many other shop assistants from countries such as India, Bangladesh and Afghanistan returned home after losing their jobs, unable to afford Dubai's high rents. The municipality said most of the shop workers had finished moving into the new stores, which are all equipped with fire extinguishers and are connected to water, electricity and drainage utilities.

Shop owners will not be required to pay rent until the original Naif Souk is restored at the end of the year, WAM reported. The municipality also noted that the construction materials for the replacement souk - such as lightweight steel instead of timber - were fire-proof and could be easily recycled for use in other similar structures. A marketing campaign has been launched across the Gulf in an effort to encourage shoppers back to the souk. The 60,000 square-foot Naif Souk was named after its proximity to the ancient Naif Fort. To some, it is popularly referred to in Arabic as "Souk Sanadiq", or the "box market", due to the box-like design of the storefronts before they were renovated in the 1980s. @Email:garis@thenational.ae @Email:mkwong@thenational.ae