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Two years after Fassouh tragedy, little progress on building codes

File - A civil defense worker, center, fixes a Lebanese flag during searches at the site of a collapsed building in Beirut's Ashrafieh district, Lebanon, Monday, Jan. 16, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Two years after the collapse of the ill-fated Fassouh building in Ashrafieh that claimed the lives of 27 individuals, officials and survivors said Friday that not enough had been done to ensure old buildings in and around the capital were made safe to avoid a similar tragedy.

But a new plan put forward at the “Road to Fassouh” discussion in the auditorium of the Sacred Heart School in Sioufi aims to ensure that both old and new buildings are up to safety standards.

The plan proposed conducting a comprehensive survey of all buildings constructed before 1960. Meanwhile, experts would work with officials to draft a decree detailing the terms and control mechanisms of existing structures and their maintenance, rectify the lease law and create a fund to finance the repair of fragile buildings.

“We are all involved in this issue, especially regular citizens, because their safety is being put at stake,” said Elie Bsaibes, president of the Beirut Order of Engineers and one of the authors of the proposal. The plan builds on studies by the Engineers’ Association and the General Directorate of Urban Planning.

“Work must be done on all legal and architectural factors to fix what could happen to old buildings in particular,” Bsaibes said.

While the Fassouh tragedy started a national conversation about unsafe buildings, most of the efforts since have focused on new structures and construction sites, not older sites.

The Fassouh building, in Beirut’s Ashrafieh district, collapsed on Jan. 15, 2012, killing 27, injuring at least a dozen others and leaving several families homeless. The seven-story building was 46 years old.

Friday’s event was attended by caretaker Telecommunications Minister Nicolas Sehnaoui, caretaker Culture Minister Gabi Layyoun, Change and Reform Parliamentary bloc MP Ghassan Moukheiber and Beirut Gov. Nassif Qallosh, as well as engineers, nonprofit groups, Civil Defense and civil society members.

The conference opened with a documentary on the collapsed building, which featured interviews with survivors, families of the victims and the Civil Defense.

Following the video, survivor Gladys Naeem, who lost her father and three brothers in the accident, said that the Fassouh building collapsed because of the owner’s “negligence and lack of precaution.”

She also stressed that many mistakes were made during the search and rescue operation, including the chaotic response of the Security Forces, the use of bulldozers to remove the rubble and a large number of individuals who stepped on the debris, interfering with the efforts. The arrival of politicians on the site also complicated matters.

Lebanon’s Higher Relief Committee had said it would start paying compensation to the victims of the Fassouh building collapse in November 2012. But according to Gladys, the amount was only enough to support them for a short time and did not take into consideration the long-term financial effects of those who had lost their homes and loved ones that were also breadwinners.

She also said the families received little of the LL1.5 million registered in their names and they had to pay their own medical fees.

“We will pursue our rights even if we only have one more day to live because pride is the most precious possession a human being can have,” Naeem said fervently, adding that the families called for the acceleration of the owners’ trials, so that they could serve as a lesson to others doing the same.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 18, 2014, on page 3.

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Summary

Two years after the collapse of the ill-fated Fassouh building in Ashrafieh that claimed the lives of 27 individuals, officials and survivors said Friday that not enough had been done to ensure old buildings in and around the capital were made safe to avoid a similar tragedy.

While the Fassouh tragedy started a national conversation about unsafe buildings, most of the efforts since have focused on new structures and construction sites, not older sites.

The Fassouh building, in Beirut's Ashrafieh district, collapsed on Jan. 15, 2012, killing 27, injuring at least a dozen others and leaving several families homeless.

The conference opened with a documentary on the collapsed building, which featured interviews with survivors, families of the victims and the Civil Defense.


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