We must ensure that no more young lives are lost to illegal pesticide use

Strict enforcement of regulations is necessary, along with stiff penalties for those who fail to adhere to them

Komal and Khuzimah with their father, Shefi Ulleh Niazi. Courtesy family
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Last Friday, the very worst of tragedies struck a Sharjah family. Khuzaimah Khan, aged 10, died after having been unwittingly exposed to toxic fumes in his home. An investigation found that the family's neighbours had fumigated their flat with pesticide tablets containing aluminium phosphide, a compound strictly regulated in the UAE. This deadly chemical is available only to commercial buyers, is not allowed to be sold to the public and cannot be used in residential areas. Khuzaimah's sister Komal is still undergoing hospital treatment and the family is waiting for her condition to improve before they break the news of her brother's death. "She thinks he is in another room," their mother, Arifa, told The National.

This is not the first time such an incident has occurred in Sharjah. In 2012, a two-year-old girl died of pesticide poisoning in the emirate, when aluminium phosphide was used in a neighbouring apartment while the tenant was away. Three years later, a three-week-old baby died after neighbours used illegal pesticides in their home. The needless loss of such young lives must not be ignored. Laws already exist to protect citizens from hazardous materials. Accordingly, officers are working to track down the suppliers of the aluminium phosphide that caused Khuzaimah's death. The investigation is ongoing, so we can only hope that those willing to put profit before the safety of innocent children are brought to justice.

There are also simple steps that we can all take to prevent further tragedies from happening in the future. For example, when getting quotes and considering companies to carry out pest management services, we should always be sure to check that they have a proper licence and are operating legally. It is also crucial to raise awareness about this issue so that people can make better and more informed choices when looking to carry out their own fumigations. This is the least we can do, to ensure that our children – and our neighbours' children – are safe in their own homes.