24 Dec 2012

Villaggio fire spurs safety probe in UAE buildings

7:01 pm on 24 December 2012

The construction industry in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has gone through a business boom in recent years but, as buildings have gone up at breakneck speed, questions are being asked about safety standards.

A fatal fire in a Qatari shopping mall in May killed 19 people - including three two-year-olds from New Zealand - and a series of high profile tower block blazes in the region have prompted authorities to revise fire regulations.

Safety consultant Tom Bell-Wright told the BBC that during the building boom until 2009 "the pace of building was so frenetic that quality and standards and all that kind of stuff were not really a consideration".

"But once things started slowing down people starting looking around and saying maybe we should be looking at checking ... these materials", he says.

The New Zealand triplets who died in the Villaggio shopping centre blaze were in a nursery in the Doha Gympanzee child care centre in the Villaggio mall. Most of the people killed were young children.

A court case is underway over the alleged causes of the blaze that killed Lillie, Jackson and Willsher Weekes, nine other children, four teachers and two firefighters.

The fire was believed to have started at the centre's Gympanzee nursery, and firefighters reportedly had to break through the roof to get to trapped children.