August 27, 2013
On the early morning of August 26, 2008, fire broke out in a villa in the Naif area of Dubai.
This was no quiet family residence. By the time the emergency services had done their work and the last of the flames had subsided, 11 men were dead.
It soon emerged that at least 500 labourers were living in squalid conditions in a building that had been carved up into 30 rooms. In addition to the dead, dozens were injured, mostly labourers and all from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
Whatever started the fire five years ago, the reason for its deadly toll was abundantly clear. The building lacked fire escapes of any description and the fire was fuelled by numerous cooking gas cylinders and personal possessions of so many inhabitants.
The tragedy was a wake-up call on the danger of fire in such conditions. Across the UAE, authorities constantly battle to close down illegally subdivided buildings. Despite their best efforts, it is a war that is far from being won.
* James Langton