x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Toddler who survived poisoning marks birthday

Hala El Hassan Bakar celebrates her second birthday - and her first since a pesticide accident killed two of her brothers last year.

Hassan Bakari with his two year old daughter Hala, who survived the Ajman pesticides that killed her two brothers celebrated her second birthday.
Hassan Bakari with his two year old daughter Hala, who survived the Ajman pesticides that killed her two brothers celebrated her second birthday.

AJMAN // Little Halla El Hassan Bakar is celebrating her second birthday without her brothers, Suhail and Ali, more than a year after the triplets were poisoned in a pesticide accident in Ajman.

Halla inhaled some of the dangerous chemicals that killed her brothers that day in March last year and spent two days recovering in hospital. Halla and her parents, El Hassan Bakar and his wife Jameela Ihsan, have since moved to Abu Dhabi.

Yesterday, she celebrated her birthday in a restaurant in the capital, apparently unaffected by the tragic events.

"Halla is growing up so fast," said her father. "She is very smart and likes to play with pens and pencils. Sometimes she paints something and calls me to see. I wish she could grow up to be an architect."

Mr Bakar said although Halla was too young to have any concrete memories of her brothers, he could see her react when he showed her their photographs.

"If you leave her with an album, you will find she has opened a page with pictures of her brothers, looking in contemplation like an adult person," he said. "But what we are trying to do is to help her not feel like she lost her two brothers, not to make her sad."

The company responsible for spraying the pesticide in the house next to the Bakars' home, Al Fawaz Pest Control, has been shut down.

Ajman Court of First Instance found the company's manager and two assistants guilty of killing Suhail and Ali. Judge Hamadi Al Shaali handed down four-year sentences and ordered them to pay blood money of Dh400,000. The verdict was later appealed and reduced to six months in prison.

A spokesman for the Ajman courts said the men were still in prison because they had not yet paid the blood money.

Tariq Al Rashid, the director of Ajman Public Prosecution, said in an investigative report that the deaths were caused by the using concentrated pesticides instead of at the recommended strength.

"The fumigant used by the workers was among those prohibited as it contained aluminium and zinc phosphides," Mr Al Rashid's reportsaid.

Izziddin Khader, the managing partner at Technical Agriculture Establishment in Al Ain, said untrained people should avoid handling chemicals as they can be dangerous even if there are no immediate effects.

"Most of these pesticides are accumulated in the liver and other internal parts of the body," Mr Khader said. "After some time - it could be days, it could be years - they will start creating problems and no one realises where this comes from."

In November 2009, the Ministry of Environment and Water banned 167 chemicals because they were deemed to be too dangerous for people and the environment, and had harmful long-term effects. Another 32 substances can only be used under the supervision of qualified people.

But the regulations are not often enforced, leaving people and the environment at risk, industry experts have said.

They say violations such as selling substances banned in the UAE or selling highly specialised chemicals to unqualified people are common.

Mr Bakar said he had spent long hours considering how he would tell Halla about Suhail and Ali when she was old enough.

Keeping it a secret would hurt her when she finally learnt the truth, he said, but he was unsure of the appropriate age to explain it to her.

Ms Ihsan said the tragedy would never leave her, but she was thankful to see Halla every day.

"I don't even know what to say but I am really happy to see Halla growing up," Ms Ihsan said.

Mr Bakar said the death of his sons completely changed his life, making even everyday work difficult.

"The more I try to forget it and move on, the more I remember it," he said. "It is something I would not like any other family to go through."

He said he wanted authorities to ensure the calamity that befell his family did not happen to thers.

"I have myself met several officials from the Ministry of Environment and urged them to do their best not to allow harmful pesticide entering into the country," Mr Bakar said.

"Many have assured me it won't happen again and promised they were still investigating how exactly those pesticides that killed my two sons entered the UAE."

ykakande@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Vesela Todorova