x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Stranded drivers falling ill in heat

The plight of lorry drivers at the Saudi border is a "humanitarian crisis", according to a hospital doctor in the nearby town of Sila.

AL GHUWAIFAT // The plight of lorry drivers at the Saudi border is a "humanitarian crisis", according to a hospital doctor in the nearby town of Sila. The doctor, who works in the accident and emergency department at Ba'aya al Sila Hospital, said the drivers had a range of often serious symptoms after being trapped for days in the extreme summer heat.

Two days earlier a man had been brought to the hospital hallucinating and covered in sand. Several people had seen him on his stomach, apparently trying to swim through the sand because he believed he was in the sea. "We have been getting two or three cases of drivers coming in per day due to renal colic, heat stroke and diabetic emergencies," said the doctor. "The drivers are suffering because they cannot keep their air conditioning on or else they will run out of gas. This is truly a humanitarian crisis."

However, he added that there had been cases where drivers had appeared to be faking illness to obtain papers that would allow them to bypass the queue on medical grounds. The queue on the road stretching back from the Saudi border was down to 12km last night, although thousands of lorries were still stuck, waiting for formalities to be completed. More than 10 ambulances are on standby, and have been taking people to the Sila hospital.

Sultan al Shehi, one of the co-ordinators of the Red Crescent Authority efforts, said thousands of packages including fruit, bread, water and juice were being handed out twice daily. The RCA was considering setting up a roadside clinic to treat people suffering from problems such as heat stroke, he said. "We will be here and continue this until the problem is finished." Police in the area have been working closely with the RCA to try to provide the drivers with food, water and petrol when needed.

Mr al Shehi said the situation had developed into a "major problem". "It has moved in the last 24 hours, but it is still a big problem," he said. "We are giving out food and other things, which are making the men happier. Some are getting upset, but we help to calm them down." Other members of his team, including volunteers, drove up and down the long queue in a pickup lorry, distributing food packages.

Donations are also coming from around the UAE, including a private company yesterday that sent a lorry loaded with food and water to the area. Schoolchildren and other members of the nearby community of Sila have also stepped in to help. Ajlan al Mansoori, 50, from the town, which is 14km from the Saudi border, said he and his friends were among those who had decided to do what they could. "We are going there everyday, because they don't have anything; they can't stay like this."

Emad, a 25-year-old Egyptian who works in Sila as a security guard, said he and his friends had taken food and water to distribute to some of the drivers. "We just bought some water, milk, bread and juice," he said. "But they were so thankful to us, they are so tired and we have to help them." eghalib@thenational.ae zconstantine@thenational.ae