How safe are our children in Doha?
AJIT KUMAR JHA
THE tragic death of 19 people, including 13 children, in a fire in Villaggio mall, is a calamity of monumental proportions. In my over six years in Qatar as an editor, I have never felt so shocked and upset. Words fail me, I simply feel speechless. We, therefore, decided to narrate the story more graphically with the help of photographs taken by the various eye witnesses and photographers.
In two words it was a Black Monday. (See page 16) Every night, when we are putting the newspaper to bed, we encounter tragic news – deaths in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and other parts of the world. The news unsettles us, hurts us, makes us feel sad. Yet we explain it away, with a certain professional detachment, simply like a doctor handles his or her patients.
We tell ourselves, the event, although a catastrophe, is far away, in some other land. We take assurance from the fact that in Doha all is safe.
Today, we felt that the even otherwise tranquil and peaceful Doha, is not safe. Our children are vulnerable. Our buildings and malls can turn death traps.
The Villaggio mall, where we buy our groceries twice a week, go to see movies on weekends, take our guests to proudly show off Doha and frequently shop and eat out, can prove to be a deadly dalliance with death.
The Villaggio mall fire tragedy is gut-wrenching and shocking because most of the victims were little children from the Gympanzee nursery. It seems most of them choked to death because of asphyxiation from the billowing smoke. Four of the teachers also died with the kids.
While rescuing the kids and the teachers two brave firefighters also lost their lives. Almost 17 others are injured, some severely.
The great Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy, in his magnum opus War and Peace said: “In peace sons bury fathers, but war violates the order of nature, and fathers bury sons.” Although there is no war in Qatar, some of the parents will be burying their kids: little innocent daughters and sons, all the while wishing it was they who had died in place of the kids. Imagine, these could have been your kids, our kids, whom we take with us to school, for shopping, for a movie, for ice-skating to Villaggio.
The tragedy must make us raise certain questions: how safe are our kids in Doha? How secure are fire hydrants and the sprinklers all over the city, in schools, in malls, in public buildings like cinema halls? How sound are the fire fighting equipment? How protected are we and our children in our homes? How safe is the public transport, especially the buses and other vehicles carrying our kids to school? The Villaggio tragedy must be seriously investigated. Thanks to the Deputy Emir for ordering the probe. We need to find out what went wrong? How could we have averted the tragedy? While we condole the dead and sympathise with the families that have lost dear ones let us all pledge to make Doha a safe, secure and sound place for ourselves and especially for our children.