By Moaeen Al Najari
Sana’a, Yemen,July 10,2016 (TheNewArab) – Nabat Qabidi, 35, and her son only son, Mohammad, 6, died when a flammable gas cylinder exploded in their house in Raymah Governorate, 130 kilometres southwest of the capital of Sanaa’.
Both died instantly while her four daughters escaped death because their bedroom was far from the explosion area.
Despite the minor injuries they sustained, the death of their Mom and brother has left wounds in their hearts that have not healed a year after the incident on March 7, 2015.
Haj Mohammad Hassan Al Haj, 64, and a relative of the grieve-stricken family said that the explosion awoke the whole village at 6 a.m. What happened to the Qadidi’ scan happen again at any time across the war-torn country because there are around 12 million gas cylinders in the local market that are not suitable for use, according to according to estimates of the Yemeni Gas Company (YGC).
This investigation has revealed that Yemenis use these cylinders, although they have expired, been misused, or poorly manufactured and maintained.
This is the result of the incompetence of the YGC, a governmental body responsible for the maintenance and substitution of gas cylinders. Its annual budget is not enough to cover the maintenance and substitution of these defected gas cylinders, said the company when confronted by this reporter on frequent gas leaks and explosions he had documented.
Engineer Abdul Aziz Sha’ef, Head of the Department for Gas Cylinder Maintenance at the company, said the problem lies in the fact that defective gas cylinders deteriorate from one year to another. According to the company archives, he estimated that there are 12 million “unusable” gas cylinders in Yemen in 2016. The estimated lifespan of such a gas cylinder is 15 years. In addition, local distributors sell gas cylinders that are manufactured by unknown sources due to the country’s political chaos.
This reporter conducted a survey of 2000 citizens. He found that a total of 1196 citizens bought damaged cylinders – 80% of them more than 3 times in one year. Another 83% said that the flaw is in the valve or in the connection between the valve and the cylinder which caused gas leaks. Furthermore none of those interviewed thought of going to the police station to report the damaged cylinders available in the market, because they do not expect any results.
On a weekly basis, the Medical Burn Center at the Republican Hospital (the sole center in Sana’a) receives patients with burns caused by gas leaks or explosion of gas cylinders. Dr.Saleh Al Haydani, head of the center, said in an interview that the number of burn patients in such accidents stood at 181 in 2014 and 126 in 2015. These statistics do not include similar accidents that have taken place in other governorates and cities. Usually, patients go to local hospitals nearest to the explosion site.
Further to that, the Ministry of Health does not have accurate numbers of similar burn cases resulting from gas leaks in Yemen, as hospitals do not bother to record the nature of medical cases they receive.
In the general medical compound in the city of Dhamar (100-kms south of Sana’a), Fawziyah Said Al Sinaai, 16, regained consciousness three days after a gas cylinder exploded in the kitchen. Her brother Nabil, 27, is lucky to be alive. The kitchen, situated in the courtyard of the house, was completed demolished.
Nabil added that the kitchen was well-built and sealed off. But the gas leaktransformed it “into an enormous bomb that detonated the moment Fawziyah opened the kitchen door at 3:30 a.m.” on 12 June, 2015.
Fawziyah was holding a candle when she opened the kitchen door, igniting the explosion that threw her 20 meters away, he added.
The hospital’s report stated that Fawziyah had bruises as well as second and third degree burns. Her full recovery would take about three months.
According to a medical report prepared by Psychologist Abdul Salam Al Saidi, Fawziyeh changed from a happy girl to an introvert who avoids contact with people. “This state is a result of the burns sustained to her neck and hands.”
Four members of Khalid Hrash Al Badji’s family have become residents at the Burn Centre after the family lost three children in a fire caused by a gas leak.
Mohammad, 15, died in his bedroom. Abdallah, 9, held on to life until he arrived at the Republican Hospital where he passed away. Ghadir, 12, died after eight days at the hospital’s ICU unit.
Khalid Hrash, father of the three victims, seemed calm as he recalled the “bloody morning of” 28 November, 2015 when fire engulfed his house in Al Qaa’ neighborhood in Sana’s as a result of a gas leak. Nine were killed including his three children,He, his father, wife, and fourth son Fares, 10, all sustained first, second and third degree burns. Dr. Mohammad Al Hajaji, burn counselor at the Republican Hospital, who supervised their treatment, said what happened to them is common.
“Home gas fires are often affecting some members of these families, and sometimes all of them”, as was the case with the Hrash family.
Civil defense statistics say the number of reported domestic fires caused by defected gas cylinders stood at 82 across all of Yemen’s governorates in 2014. But these figures exclude cases of domestic fires that are extinguished on the spot by house owners.
In March 2009, the President of the Republic demanded that four million damaged cylinders be pulled from the local market following a report issued by the YGC, part of the Ministry of Oil. The report was prepared in partnership with the Ministries of Industry and Health as well as the Civil Defense. The report stated that there are 7 million and 600 thousand unusable cylinders out of 16 million cylinders traded by Yemenis. It also stated that 3 million and 600 thousand cylinders could be maintained while 4 million cylinders should be destroyed. The complete maintenance of a gas cylinder costs $13 while partial maintenance is estimated at $4. The cost of replacing or maintaining the vulvae is $5.
But the Ministry of Finance refused to implement the demand. In a report presented to the presidency, the ministry explained that the government is unable to spend 30 million Yemeni Riyals ($140 million)to fund a seven-year-plan for recalling the cylinders and replacing them with new ones and maintaining the rest.The ministry also alleged that this number is exaggerated. Instead of implementing, the Ministry of Finance allocated a yearly budget for maintenance and destruction of cylinders: 444 million riyals in 2015, equivalent to around $2 million.
Meanwhile, according to its 2015 financial report, the YGC spent 800 million riyals on maintenance and destruction, double the budget allocated by the Ministry of Finance.
According to Article 304 of the Yemeni Penal Code, citizens are allowed to file a lawsuit against any governmental or nongovernmental party or individual who is responsible for any harm done. Judge Firas Al Nawari of the Higher Judicial Instituetold the journalist that “this article applies to institutions individuals”. He added that the responsible party “is considered a legal entity.”
Lawyer Abdul Qoddous Al Matari does not expect any citizen to be compensated in case he decided to sue the gas company, the party responsible for monitoring and controlling the market because the culture of suing a government institution does not exist among citizens.
In a country where the average per capital income before the war was estimated at $150, Al Matari added: “One might lose thousands of riyals without getting any results”.
The odd thing is that 30% of the sample surveyed by this reporter said they used the damaged cylinders despite knowing that they are flowed when they noticed the leak. They inspected it in a primitive manner of putting suds on it. Meanwhile, 60% of them returned the cylinders to the seller, while 10% of them were obliged to empty the cylinders in the air. Despite the high percentage of damaged cylinders in the market, only 30% of the sampled citizens inspected the cylinder before buying it by putting suds on the valve.
As part of the investigation, we tested a random sample of 3 cylinders bought from the market in the laboratory of the Yemeni Specifications and Standardization Authority. The results revealed that two of the cylinders did not meet the conditions of the authority as their bodies were dented. No source for the country of supplies, date of manufacturing, trademark or name of manufacturing company were written on the cylinders. The tests carried out by the author on the 2 December, 2014 proved that the violations in the second sample were mainly an increase in the circumference of the protective ring and a decrease in the weight of the empty cylinder. According to the conditions of the Specifications and Standardization Authority, this makes a cylinder inflexible and increases the likelihood of it exploding in case of impact.
The serial number for production and the manufacturing date was unclear in the third cylinder. The laboratory report considered that to be one of the conditions adopted by the authority in tests. It is considered a violation but the authority overlooks it only for one time and warns the importer about it. The authority had previously issued warnings to three traders for violating the conditions, and according to a source in the authority, the three trades started abiding to the conditions.
According to a document retrieved by this reporter from the administration for quality control in the Specifications and Standardization Authority, the following major violations were listed by inspection teams: increase in the tensile strength of the body of the cylinder, the location of the welding and an increase in the circumference of the protective ring.
On the other hand, the decrease in the weight of the empty cylinder, the decrease in the percentage of the elongation, the thickness of the cylinder, the thickness of the protective ring of the valve, and the variance in the external circumference of the protective ring are all considered dangerous violations that make the gas cylinder s prone to explosion at any moment. This is according to a document issued by the administration for quality control in the Yemeni Specifications and Standardization Authority in February 2015.
Deficiency in Maintenance
A contract was signed in 1996 between the Oil Company “the party responsible for gas prior to the establishment of the gas company in the year 2000” and the Yemeni factory for gas cylinders (private) that is owned by businessman Ali Al Mafrez – the only manufacturer in Yemen. This contract give Al Mafrez the right to maintain and destroy gas cylinders according to request by the gas company. In the past five years, the factory has received varying numbers of cylinders, with the highest number being 21,7450 in 2014. Only 99,128 out of those cylinders were destroyed while the rest underwent either full or partial maintenance.
According to the contract, the role of the Yemeni factory for gas cylinders is restricted to maintenance and destruction of cylinders transferred to the warehouses of the factory from the YGC that is represented in the factory by a team of five engineers specializing in maintenance. They are the ones who decide which cylinders are to undergo maintenance and which are to be destroyed.
The lists issued by the Yemeni gas company show a constant increase in the rates of cylinders that destroyed from the ones sent for maintenance. The percentages reached 33% in the year 2010 and 45% in the year 2014.
The agreement signed between the YGC and the Yemeni factory for gas cylinders obliges the factory to destroy the unmaintainable cylinders for free. In return the company buys the replacements cylinders from the factory.
And according to the statistics of the company, the average production of the factory varies between 120 to 115 thousand cylinders per year. Last year, it produced 115 thousand cylinders.
Types of Maintenance
The YGC adopts two types of inspection. The first is observational. Engineer Ahmad Al Haddad, head of the technical department in the company said: “there is partial maintenance that only requires changing the valve, and a complete maintenance which applies to all the parts of the cylinder.”
The cylinder undergoes full maintenance when it has a technical specification flaw which is described by Engineer AbulRaqib Al Najar, head of the maintenance department in the company: “as untreatable bumps, rusts,dentsor flaws in the protective razors of the valve, which require that the cylinder undergoes a full maintenance.”
Humidity is considered one of the main reasons for destroying a gas cylinder in the coastal regions, such as Al Hudaydah, Aden and Hadhramaut. Humidity is considered the number one enemy of iron, particularly gas cylinders, unless the cylinder is constantly maintained, according to Engineer Ahmad Al Haddad.
Al Haddad confirmed that once the rust appears on the body of the cylinder, its estimated lifespan is cut from 15 years to 10 years and mayless depending on the density of the humidity from one area to another. He also said that the expiry date for many of the traded cylinders has passed – some of them were produced in the 80s, and some of them do not have a manufacturing date in violation of instructions.
A source in the Yemeni Specifications and Standardization Authority admitted that the Yemeni market is filled with cylinders from unknown countries and unknown manufacturing companies with no trademark on them. This journalist received reports issued by the authority pertaining to legal deals conducted in Yemen and permitted by the authority on 29 May, 2006, despite the fact that the source country and manufacturing company were unknown and the products did not have a trademark.
A source at the administration for quality control, who asked to remain anonymous, confirmed that a deal is approved if cylinders meet the technical requirements only once if they don’t have the source country, the manufacturing company or the trademark mentioned on them. And the trader is given a warning not to repeat the offence. In case the mistake is repeated, they prevent the cargo from entering the country.
The same source added that the authority prevented a deal from entering the market for 10000 cylinders in 2014. According to the authority’s report, there were technical violations in the shipment such as the weight of the empty cylinder. (The Yemeni authorities specifies that the weight of the empty cylinder to be between 5.14 and 15kgs while it says that the thickness of the cylinder should not be less than 3 mms). Despite the fact that the Yemeni specifications and standards – which are similar to those of any developed Arab or European country – necessitate that the name of the manufacturer, the trademark, the source country, the production date and the serial number to written on each cylinder, the reports retrieved by this journalist from the YGC showed that there are 15 types of traded cylinders in the market that do not mention the name of the manufacturing company and some of them don’t have the trademark either.
The same reports confirm that most of those cylinders are Chinese products. In addition, Yemen mainly imports the cylinders from Saudi Arabia, China and Turkey. One report issued by the Yemeni Specifications and Standardization Authority identified seven traders in Yemen who are importing cylinders from these countries in a legal manner. But the authority does not have details of the imported quantities. Any trader can import any product without the need for an authorization from a governmental body, except for medicinal products. All the importer needs to do is buy a certificate for specifications and standards for cylinders from the YGC. Then the trader imports a shipment of cylinders from any country via sea or land and presents a sample to be tested by the authority. If the authority finds the sample to be matching to the standards and specifications, it allows the shipment to enter. If it doesn’t find it matching, it does not allow it.
In addition to the humidity and the low quality, locals abuse the cylinders and so do the vendors. Empty cylinders are rolled on the ground in shops to exchange them for full ones. The full cylinders are then rolled to the houses. Staff at shops throw the cylinders roughly from the trucks onto the ground at the gates of the shops.
A delegate at the Ministry of Trade and Industry AbulIlahShaybansaid abusing the cylinders is the number one reason for their damage. Rolling the cylinders causes dents and changes in the weight of the cylinder as a result of the friction.
According to Engineer Ahmad Al Haddad, some people use an iron pole to open the valve by beating it roughly when it’s locked. When this process is repeated, cracks appear on the valves. 70% of citizens included in the survey believed that abuse is the main reason behind the damage.
Sending Back the Damaged
In another survey carried out by this reporter in 30 shops in Sana’a between 35%-40% of quantities of gas cylinders stored there were unfit for use due to dents and bulges in addition to rust.
The owners of the shops that replace the cylinders are obliged to send back to the main stations all unusable cylinders. Ali Saleh Al Raeini, owner of Al Tawfik exhibition for replacement of cylinders who owns 60 cylinders said: “During each refill, there are usually around 25 to 30 damaged cylinders.”
In an attempt to find possible solutions for this problem, the Ministry of Industry presented a proposal in the 2010 to increase budget allocations for maintenance for each refill from 5 riyals to 200 riyals. However, according to the undersecretary of the ministry, some governmental parties – which he didn’t name – “refused the proposal on ground the money will go to other parties.”
In addition to that, the Ministry of Finance allocated 14 riyals to maintain the cylinder, which Engineer Al Haddad considers “insufficient at all for solving the problem of damaged cylinders.”
Since the proposal to help reduce the risks of gas was refused, hundreds of Yemenis – mostly children and women who are often in the kitchen will continue to fall victims to house fires.
This report was completed with the support of Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ) www.arij.net and coached by Khalid Al Harouji.