Is new construction in the Gulf safe?

I am the first to ooh and ahh over the many stunning buildings in Dubai.  From twisty skyscrapers to the tallest building on earth, there are plenty of architectural achievements in this city to appreciate.

But many times, new construction makes the news and not in a positive way.  There have been several instances of very destructive fires in tall buildings since we have lived in Dubai.  The most recent case was in Tamweel Tower in Jumeirah Lake Towers, a 34-story building of apartments.  Despite occurring at 2 am, gutting half the building and taking 7+ hours to put out, thankfully, (and surprisingly) the fire did not injure anyone.  Of course many people lost everything though as they escaped wearing only their pajamas without even their shoes.  The severity of these fires and the difficulty in putting them out are likely caused by panels used in the construction of the buildings that are not fire-retardant.  This cheaper cladding causes fires to spread quickly and does not meet international fire safety codes, yet there are no regulations preventing the use of this material. (See this post on Parallel Universe for more info and links to related articles.)

Unfortunately, tragic fires like these are not unique to the UAE.  Back in May, you may have heard of the fire in an upscale mall in Qatar that killed 19 people, including 12 small children who were attending a day care.  There were no functioning fire alarms or sprinkler systems to aid in evacuation.  Attached is a letter from the father of 2 year-old triplets, all of whom died in the fire.  In the letter he describes what must be an infuriating “judicial system” that has allowed the trial to be postponed four different times.  These parents are waiting for answers and for justice.  They are hoping to increase visibility of the case to encourage the Qatari government to take the proper steps in dealing with this tragedy.  A portion of his letter follows:

On the 28th May 2012 our 2 year old triplets Lillie, Jackson & Willsher were killed along with 9 of their friends and 4 teachers in their daycare in Doha Qatar.

Since that date despite numerous requests from ourselves, our government (we are from NZ) and the US, the French, Spanish & Canadian Embassies, we have been refused access to any information from the Qatar Government on their death and the investigation into what caused it.

Similarly despite the seriousness of the crime the trial has now been postponed 4 times (most recently yesterday)as the Qatari defendants have refused to turn up in court – he is a member of the Royal Family & Qatar’s Ambassador to Belgium and she is the daughter of the Minister of Culture.

Jane & I are both open to be interviewed both about what happened in Doha and if you are able to help promote our story and the injustice that is being perpetuated, there is also another US family who lost their daughter now living in Atlanta who are willing to speak.


For more information, visit their facebook page at:

Yes, accidents happen, but there is a big difference between tragic misfortune and tragic negligence. In a region that often gloats about having the “biggest” this and the “best” of that,  you often find yourself wondering what’s under the surface of these perpetual and boastful claims.  For many reasons (not just these fires, although they in particular are an ugly reminder) the glitz and glamour of ‘5 star living’ often feels like a shiny veneer that only runs skin deep.  Let’s hope this trial moves forward and steps are taken to ensure that building codes across the Gulf are updated to reflect the modernity and visionary spirit that these buildings symbolize.


About Lynda

Longhorns and Camels is a blog about exploring Dubai from the perspective of an expat from Texas. It features stories about living in Dubai including descriptions of local culture and popular activities in the region. It also includes photography of the UAE and other countries abroad. It has been recommended by several well-known guides for expatriates: InterNations, ExpatWoman and Expat Focus.
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6 Responses to Is new construction in the Gulf safe?

  1. Judy says:

    This is a very sad but true fact and I my advice to anyone newly arrived was to be aware that things were not always as they seemed. Whether it was a roller coaster ride, a nursery school or the building you lived in, you need to do your own due diligence before relying upon it. Dubai and Qatar are quite deceptive – not intentionally I’m sure – but they look so modern, so western, that it’s tempting to assume everything about them meets standards “back home” … but they don’t always. A valuable post.

    • So so true! When we first moved into our house here, my boys who were 2 and 3 at the time very nearly had a couple of potentially fatal accidents. I just didn’t think to look out for some of the danger zones because at home they wouldn’t be an issue. Deaths caused by window/balcony accidents continue to be a problem here and are often in the news. Very scary.

  2. hopeindoha says:

    On a related note, yesterday my boss and I watched in horror (and also called the safety department to come out) as a young man hosed down one of those tent/tarp covers used to provide shade here in Doha while standing ON the tarp, 20 feet above the ground. His colleague was poking the tarp from ground level with a pole to swish the water around to clean the tarp, causing him to frequently lose his balance. I don’t know if it’s a lack of supplies (like a ladder to stand on!), or lack of training, or pressure from the contractor, or what. It seems these sorts of problems are not likely to get much attention. given that the labor system around here (tacitly) encourages silence among all parties.

    • Oh my! Very scary and utterly ridiculous sounding. I hope he made it down okay? I’m not surprised – worker safety is definitely not a strong suit of the region. There are so many stories… window washers who fall to their deaths, accidents on construction sites, or my favorite – workers in the villa next door to my friend’s villa decided to use gasoline to clean the floor (trying to remove residue from carpet). Yes, gasoline. Obviously the fumes were getting into my friend’s house so she and her family had to relocate to a hotel. No idea how these guys could withstand the fumes. She tried on two occasions to get them to stop (some of them were understandably a bit incoherent) but poor guys were scared they would get in trouble with their boss. Best part is she caught one of them SMOKING while using the gasoline. Sigh. She was finally able to talk to someone in charge and get them to stop.

  3. It’s almost amazing that in a region like the gulf so much negligence exists. Do you know if building codes across have been updated in later years?

    • Lynda says:

      I agree – the negligence just doesn’t match the futuristic, modern vibe! I’m not sure about the building codes now – but I know there have been other fires since I left – it’s an ongoing problem.Thanks for stopping by 🙂

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