The family of a five-year-old boy is looking for answers and imploring Qatar’s government to increase safety measures after their son fell into an open sewage maintenance hole in Abu Hamour.
Hamad Hospital staff have determined that the boy, Fahim Sirajudeen, no longer has any brain activity. He is at least the third child to have fallen into an uncovered hole in the ground in Qatar in less than a year.
Despite calls from residents and Central Municipal Council officials to address the safety hazards, blame is difficult to assign in these cases, and the problem continues.
Fahim’s father, Mohamed Sirajudeen, a 34-year-old accountant from India who lives in Ain Khalid, recounted the family’s ordeal to Doha News during a visit to Hamad Hospital last night.
There, Sirajudeen’s son lies in a bed in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, hooked up to a respirator that keeps him alive.
“It’s all artificial,” Fahim’s father said. “He can’t breathe on his own.”
On the evening of Tuesday, Sept. 10, the Sirajudeen family – Fahim, his parents and his 18-month-old sister – left the fish market in Abu Hamour around 7:30pm.
Fahim had been walking ahead of his parents, singing a song, when he suddenly vanished from view. The parents quickly realized he had stepped into a partially uncovered manhole, one they had not seen due to poor lighting in the area.
Over the next 10 to 15 minutes, a crowd of more than 100 people gathered, but nobody knew what to do.
According to friends of the family who spoke to Doha News, some at the scene were reluctant to intervene for fear of getting in trouble with authorities. Others did not know how to swim, or were leery of jumping into a dark hole without knowing how deep it went.
Eventually, some workers from the fish market brought a ladder and were able to rescue the boy. But at that point, it was already too late. Fahim had been at least partially submerged underwater, and without oxygen for so long, his brain had suffered irreversible damage.
Speaking to Doha News, Fahim’s doctor said he sees three or four cases like this a year. If the children survive, they usually suffer permanent brain damage, he added.
Last November, a three-year-old Jordanian boy fell into an 8-meter (26-foot) hole outside of an Al Sadd hotel, falling into a coma for three weeks before eventually passing away. That area had also been poorly lit.
And a month later, a three-year-old Omani girl was killed after falling into an open manhole near her home in Al Wakra. Municipal workers conducting a cleanup apparently did not notice she had fallen in and secured the manhole cover before leaving for the night. She was found during a search of the area by neighbors.
In both instances, blame was difficult to assign to one specific party. Hotel employees were eventually taken to court on charges of neglecting safety and health regulations, but it is unclear if they were punished beyond paying blood money for the Jordanian child.
And in the case of the Al Wakra girl, the Ministry of Urban Planning and Development told local media that the private contractor should shoulder responsibility. CMC officials, however, said the government should put up warning signs and punish negligent companies.
But even if implemented, new regulations will not return Fahim, who loved Legos and doted on his little sister, back to his family.
Speaking to Doha News, neighbor and close family friend Rajan said:
“We have killed one small boy for no valid reason. This kind of negligence should not kill another boy or girl. Qatar is a very developed country. But safety-wise, who is accountable?”
Rajan also blasted the poor lighting conditions surrounding the fish market area, the negligent worker who left the manhole uncovered, the government for not having checks in place and the tardiness of first responders.
He added that it took nearly 40 minutes for an ambulance to arrive at the scene after he called 999, and then bristled at the doctor who told him they had brought Fahim in too late. “Should I fly and come?”
Credit: Photos courtesy of family