Emirati teens win compensation for chemical burns

Emirati boys fell into unmarked hazardous materials dumped at a popular storm-watching wadi by a cement company in Fujairah.

Khalifa Al Yamahi shows his burnt hands after he and his cousin fell into a pit of chemicals that left them needing several operations. Pawan Singh / The National
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FUJAIRAH // Two boys who were badly burnt in a pit filled with chemical waste five years ago were awarded a total of Dh2.4 million in compensation on Monday.

Khalifa Al Yamahi and his cousin Jasem Al Yamahi were awarded Dh1.5m and Dh900,000 respectively.

Their families filed a claim for Dh60m from Fujairah Cement Industries, which had dumped the waste. The families said they would appeal against the awards.

Khalifa, now 17, and Jasem, 18, suffered severe chemical burns to their bodies when they fell into a wadi in Dibba, where the company had failed to put up warning signs.

“About 75 per cent of Khalifa’s body was injured and he can’t live a normal life any more, nor can Jasem,” said Jumaa Mleah, one of the families’ lawyers. “They need the financial compensation to cover their long-term medical expenses and future.”

Khalifa’s elder brother, Mohammed, said the families intended to appeal.

“The amount will not guarantee their future as they can’t work or be engaged in any physical activity,” he said. “Their lives have been seriously affected and we can’t support them financially.

“We will file for an appeal as we have faith in our justice system.”

Jasem fell in while trying to save his cousin. The two boys were then rescued by Khalifa’s father, Ali, and taken to hospital where they were treated for severe burns to their legs, chests, backs and hands.

Both have had several operations to treat their injuries but their relatives fear they will never lead a normal life.

“I won’t be able to join the military and become a soldier as my body wouldn’t allow me to do that any more after the incident,” said Jasem.

“I can’t pray properly, run or walk for long distances. The incident has affected my entire life and education as I’m one year behind and should have been finished high school by now.”

Khalifa’s father said: “Khalifa and Jasem were walking in front of me and in seconds, the ground swallowed Khalifa and then Jasem as he was trying to pull him out.

“In less than a minute, their bodies were burned and their skin was attached to their shoes and clothes. We filed a lawsuit and the offenders were punished, and now we ask for compensation for the physical and psychological harm.”

The area around the scene of the accident, Al Qareen, is now fenced off and warning signs have been put up.

Khalifa said he was so shocked after falling into the pit that he did not feel anything at first.

“My head was the only thing above the surface and the rest of my body was covered with the burning chemicals,” he said.

“I can’t walk or sit for long, I have burns all over my body from neck to toe and I’m three years behind in school due to the long treatment process.

“I used to play football but not any more. I have to apply a cream two to three times a day on all of my body and wear long socks if I want to go out, which made me feel embarrassed and I became isolated.”

Like his cousin, the teenager dreamed of a career in the Armed Forces but fears he will not be able to serve.

“All my dreams were destroyed as I wanted to finish school and join the Army. I can’t live a normal life any more and I can’t get married,” said Khalifa.

Both boys were treated in Al Wasl Hospital in Dubai before being moved to a hospital in Stuttgart, Germany, where they stayed for about five months.

They return to Germany each year for treatment, which is paid for by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

Watching her son struggle through so many years of constant treatment has been difficult on Mariam Al Yamahi, Khalifa’s mother.

“It’s been hard on all of us and seeing him suffer was hurting me deep in the heart,” she said. “Without the help and support of Sheikh Mohammed, we wouldn’t be able to afford their treatment.

“Both of them have undergone a lot of surgery and psychiatric treatment but they still isolate themselves from the community because of their injuries.”

Fujairah Cement Industries was unavailable for comment.

In 2013, the manager of its factory was convicted of causing injury to Jasem and Khalifa and the court fined him Dh3,000. He was also fined for causing damage to the environment.