By FAZEENA SALEEM
Many residential and commercial areas across the country are likely to get a better look soon, with the Ministry of Municipality and Urban Planning preparing to crack down against dumping of goods on rooftops.
Based on a recommendation by the Central Municipal Council (CMC), the ministry has instructed all municipalities to take action against owners of buildings with goods and junk on their rooftops.
A senior official of Doha Municipality recently called on the city’s residents to report to the municipal authorities if they noticed any building with unclean premises, including rooftops.
Ali Nasser Al Hajari, director of the public monitoring department at the municipality, told an Arabic daily that the department had of late received some 500 complaints related to poor hygienic conditions in buildings. The complaints were mainly related to dumping of waste in the premises, water leakage and poor maintenance.
“We will soon start inspections and find a solution to the problem” said Al Hajari.
Rooftops of many buildings have become places for dumping waste, turning them into breeding grounds for insects. In not only old buildings but many high-rise structures also rooftops are not maintained properly, which is a violation of the law, he said.
The official said owners of these buildings will be held responsible for such violations since it is their duty to keep the premises clean.
The messy rooftops came into focus after a recent proposal by the Central Municipal Council to the civic authorities to urgently look into the issue and take corrective measures.
The CMC’s recommendation was based on two concerns — safety of the buildings and the general appearance of the city. The services committee of the CMC pointed out that following the construction of several flyovers and skyscrapers in the city, rooftops of old villas and low-rise structures had been exposed to public view, and the littered rooftops were presenting an ugly image of the city, especially to tourists.
The other aspect, related to safety, is more important since a time tomb is said to be ticking in many crowded residential areas of the country.
The CMC pointed out that rooftops of many buildings were used for dumping waste and to store old furniture, toys, wires, batteries, tyres, wood, paint and other flammable material, which could easily cause a fire, especially in summer.
Moreover, such untidy places are a haven for rodents and insects and can lead to health problems.
The civic body called on the authorities to immediately launch an inspection campaign to identify such buildings and take measures to spruce them up. It also recommended that the Ministry of Municipality and Urban Planning include a condition in licensing rules making it mandatory for building owners to keep rooftops clean and tidy.
The CMC felt that occupants of residential buildings should be encouraged to grow decorative plants on rooftops, which would help make the city clean and green. The terraces of buildings could also be used for physical activities instead of being turned into junkyards.
The CMC proposal was widely welcomed by the Qatari community, resulting in a faster-than-usual response from the civic authorities. Several citizens and residents have expressed the view that the issue in question needs immediate attention for a number of reasons.
The problem affects almost all parts of Doha, especially the densely populated residential areas. It has worsened due to the practice of partitioning of villas into small units that are then let out to many families.
Greedy real estate agents are thriving on this practice, cashing in on a shortage of affordable housing units in the country.
A Indian expatriate living in the Al Murra area, which has a large number of old villas, said he had been a victim of poorly maintained premises.
“ I am staying in a partitioned villa along with a number of other families. The building is so old that cracks have appeared on the roof. The agents who rented out the villa have dumped furniture, wooden doors, paint, cables and wires on the rooftop. These, along with the water tanks and dish antennas belonging to each family, occupy the entire roof. If there is rain or overflow from the tanks, the rooftop gets inundated and the water leaks into our rooms,” he said.
Such partitioning also poses safety risks. Every available space in the premises is used to build extensions. Such constructions are illegal but the municipal authorities mostly turn a blind eye.
“Rooftops of many buildings are being used to accommodate labourers. There are laws to prevent this but they are not properly implemented,” said a citizen in remarks to a local Arabic daily that recently carried a special report on this issue.
He said many old buildings were accommodating families and single workers in numbers far beyond their capacity.
“This is putting additional pressure on the water, electricity and sewage network. Power supply in most partitioned villas is handled in a very unsafe manner and using substandard material. There is no mechanism to monitor this and ensure safety. A fire or a crash can occur any time in such overpopulated buildings,” he added.
CMC member Hamad bin Khaled Al Ghanim said, “These poorly maintained buildings not only give a bad image to the city but they are also dangerous to the occupants. Most of the buildings are old. They should be renovated or demolished.”
The CMC had earlier proposed to the Ministry of Municipality and Urban Planning that it prepare a list of buildings in the country to be demolished or in need of immediate repairs.
The CMC also proposed issuing guidelines for maintenance of buildings that would be helpful to property owners as well as municipal inspectors monitoring buildings.
According to the law, if the committee concerned at the ministry takes a decision regarding maintenance or demolition of a building and the owner fails to implement it within the given time frame, the ministry will do it on its own and force the owner to bear the expense, which will be 25 percent more than the actual cost.
The most common violations of the law include keeping openings for air conditioners uncovered, exposing water tanks on rooftops to public view and failure to stick to the permitted colours for buildings.
Many residents want the CMC proposal to clean up rooftops to be implemented at the earliest.
“It’s good a decision has been taken to keep rooftops clean. People keep all types of things on rooftops, from building materials and cardboard boxes to wires. If a fire breaks out in such places, especially where many people live, it will be very difficult to control the situation,” said Imara Brantha, a working mother living in a partitioned villa in the Madinat Khalifa area.
“In case of an electrical short circuit or fire it is difficult even to find the main switch of our building. So it’s better to take preventive measures,” she added.
Many residents said they hardly used the rooftops because they were in a bad condition.
A professional living in an apartment in the Old Airport area said, “People living here hardly get a chance to use their rooftops. Either the place is filled with unused things or TV cables and dishes. Wires are everywhere. It is dangerous.”
“Here there are few places for children to play at home. Safe rooftops can be an ideal place if they are kept clean and safe. But now those are the most dangerous places,” said a banker and father of two living in the Najma area.
“Rainwater doesn’t get drained properly because the rooftops are filled with many things. Although we don’t get mosquitoes here, still it can be dangerous and create health problems,” said a housewife living in a villa in the Muntaza area.
Since doors to rooftops remain open all the time, especially in areas dominated by labourers, they could be used for illegal activities such as gambling and making hooch, said some residents.
Officials decline comment
Doha: The Doha Municipality, National Human Rights Committee (NHRC) and the General Directorate of Civil Defence refused to comment on the issue of buildings having untidy rooftops and, in some cases, labourers living there. Contacted for their remarks, senior officials of Doha Municipality, NHRC and Civil Defence said they were not authorised to interact with the media. They insisted that media persons approach them through “proper channels”, meaning through their public relations departments.
Official request letters, printed on the letterhead of the newspaper, needed to be sent to the agencies, giving details about the issue and the questions to be asked.
However, since this write-up was done on a short notice, going through “proper channels” was not an option as it would have taken a lot of time. So the write-up does not include the views of officials.