x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Health fears for stranded drivers

A second team of volunteers is sent to help thousands of lorry drivers stuck at the border with Saudi Arabia.

Transport trucks wait in line at the UAE / Saudi Arabia border crossing.
Transport trucks wait in line at the UAE / Saudi Arabia border crossing.

AL GHUWAIFAT // A second team of volunteers has been sent to help thousands of drivers stranded in a 32km queue at the Saudi Arabian border. The state news agency WAM reported that the doctors, medics and other volunteers would join a team that was already on the ground delivering food and water. Conditions continued to deteriorate for the drivers, who have been stuck in temperatures of up to 45°C without access to basic facilities, some for almost a week. Saleh Mohammed al Mualla, secretary general of the Red Crescent Authority, said it was becoming a "dangerous humanitarian situation". The logjam, which began late last month and grew another seven kilometres yesterday, has been blamed on a Saudi move to step up security. Its customs officials have begun searching vehicles thoroughly and fingerprinting drivers in an effort to combat smuggling. Mohammed Khalifa al Muhairi, the director of the Federal Customs Authority, is scheduled to discuss the issue with his Saudi counterpart tomorrow.

Some of the truck drivers stranded in a "no man's land", the stretch of road between the two borders, feared they would not be able to tolerate the heat much longer. "We see at least two to three cases each day of people vomiting, losing consciousness due to dehydration and constant headaches," said Kavil Joei, an Indian driver who has reached close to the UAE border after three long days of queueing. The drivers said yesterday that the Abu Dhabi authorities had been quick in responding to health concerns, which was a big relief to them. "Whenever there is such a case, we call 999 and they immediately come with an ambulance and take us to the nearest hospital," said Mr Joei. "They are helpful but we do not know how long we can take this." His own companion had been admitted to hospital a few days ago after vomiting several times, he added. "The drivers often try to solve the problems themselves since they do not want to leave their truck behind. We have to keep moving to cross the borders." Ambulances were on standby near the border and were constantly seen moving up and down the queue. Qasem al Falah, a driver transporting metal and building materials to Kuwait, said he had been suffering from severe headaches due to being out in the sun all day. "Even if we get under our trucks to try and find shade, we still suffer from the heat," he said. "This heat makes it so hard to breathe." Some concerned residents were taking matters into their own hands. Raj Shekhar drove more than 350km from his home in Abu Dhabi with food and water supplies stacked in his car for the distressed drivers.

"We read about it and wanted to do a bit more than just complaining," he said. "It is not much, but we did our bit." Inch by inch, the drivers have been moving their lorries forward, by not more than 10km a day, if they were lucky. Without water, toilets or bathrooms, they have been unable to wash or relieve themselves in private. "It's been days since I had a bath," said Moosa Ali, another driver. "We have to use the desert as our bathroom." pmenon@thenational.ae