Poor regulation of LPG heating systems putting Kurdistan Region residents at risk

23-11-2022 09:55


An explosion caused by a gas leak killed 15 people in Sulaimaniyah on November 17, prompting an outpouring of grief from residents and officials. Four nights later, disaster truck again when six people were killed by a similar explosion in Duhok.

The twin tragedies were the result of faults in liquified petroleum gas (LPG) heating systems, which are now beinginstalled in many homes and businesses in the Kurdistan Region.

However, the response to the two incidents has differed significantly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

Provincial administrations in Erbil and Duhok both met to reassess regulation of LPG systems, but officials in Sulaimaniyah have remained largely silent about how they will ensure the safety of residents.

On November 17, widows across Sulaimaniyah’s northeastern Kaziwa neighborhood rattled and flames and smoke shot up into the night sky when gas leaking from an LPG system in a three-story residential home ignited.

The blast brought down the building, killing 15 people and injuring 12 others. Most of the victims were related to each other. They had gathered that night for dinner together.

The LPG system had been installed earlier this year, but there had been problems with the gas lines and repairs were underway.

Brigadier General Diyar Ibrahim, director of civil defense in Sulaimaniyah, told Peregraf that the gas leak was quite significant and that neighbors had smelled gas earlier in the day.

“But it was neglected. Otherwise, such a big building would not collapse easily," Ibrahim said.

Numerous local and regional officials attended the victims’ funeral, including Kurdistan Region President Nechirvan Barzani.

Then on November 21, a gas tank exploded on the roof of a building in central Duhok city that was home to a bakery, shop, and a dormitory for students studying at a local university.

Six people were killed and 41 others were injured. The deputy chief of Duhok’s emergency police, members of the police and civil defense forces, construction workers, and educators who tried to stop the gas leak were among the victims.

In the aftermath, KRG Prime Minister Masrour Barzani called an emergency meeting on November 22 and issued a decision to halt work on all new gas systems.

Ibrahim said that the KRG Ministry of Interior has standingguidelines about installing the gas systems in public buildings, but has not issued corresponding rules for residential houses and private property.

"But after this incident, new instructions will be issued by the ministry and [systems in] houses will be regulated and monitored," he said.

In Erbil, the provincial government issued an order on November 21 that no company or individual can install a newLPG system in a restaurant, bakery, or residence without the approval of the relevant local authorities. The Duhok Provincial Council has met several times about the issue in the past week and formed a special committee to issue new policy recommendations.

In Sulaimaniyah, however, the provincial administration has not held any formal meetings to respond to the explosions nor issued any instructions about how to prevent new accidents.

Azad Muhammed Amin, head of the Sulaimaniyah Provincial Council, told Peregraf hwoever that the council’s internal committee has launched an investigation that will form the basis of later meetings and reports on the subject.

“Most of the gas systems are not up to standard or of goodquality. Some homeowners have not installed warning devices.The media should also raise awareness about the systems, so that citizens do not do something that endangers their lives, their homes, and children," Amin said.

Increasingly popular, but beset with problems

The type of LPG heating systems that are being installed in residential homes in the Kurdistan Region is made up of two parts: a network of hot water pipes that runs throughout the structure to heat the rooms and a gas tank that sits on the roof or in an open area that fuels a boiler.

Goran Rashid, who runs a business selling LPG systems, told Peregraf that there is no danger posed by the hot water pipes, the risk instead comes from the tank and any gas lines that run out of it.

"Some families have gas lines from these tanks that also go to kitchens and gas stoves, which are distributed all over the house," said Rashid.

"There is great danger if there are any problems," he explained.

Over the past few years, the popularity of LPG systems has increased because the price of the kerosene that many residents have historically used to heat their homes has increased. With the government unable to deliver enough subsidized fuel to meet demand, residents have sought out alternatives.

However, the most important problem is there are not enough technicians who are properly trained in the installation of LPG systems.

On November 20, the Duhok provincial administration met with the Gas System Supervisory and Regulation Committee to develop new guidelines to address this shortfall.

"We are contacting those who have already been working on[the systems] in order to ensure safety," said Rashid.

"After the incidents, more than 15 houses asked us to review and scrutinize their systems,” he added.

Rashid also expressed surprise and concern that customers would spend between $5,000 and $6,000 installing a new LPGsystem, but then neglect to put protective measures in place, like warning devices that monitor gas flow and can automatically shut the system down in case of a problem.

While the explosions in Sulaimaniyah and Duhok wereespecially tragic, earlier incidents indicted a growing problem.

In May, a gas leak at Lily’s Cafeteria on Sulaiymaniyah’s Salim Street ignited, causing a large explosion. The building collapsed and injured several people. In July, a leak at another cafeteria near Salim Street caught fire and caused a number of injuries.

Rashid said that any new gas system installation should be handled by a company licensed by the government with a plan approved by the relevant local authorities.

Ibrahim, the civil defense official, said that some of the accidents were caused by property owners trying to skirt these guidelines and regulations.

In the case of Lily’s Cafeteria, the installation company recommended a series of urgent repairs and cut off the gas as a precaution. Instead, the property owners hired an outside contractor who bypassed safety protocols in order to turn the gas back on, which caused a massive gas leak and the explosion.

As of writing, the KRG has not released the results of the official investigation into the November 17 explosion in Sulaimaniyah.

Amin, the head of the provincial council, said that an unofficial group of engineers had examined the site and found that some of the equipment and pipes used to install the system were of substandard quality.

He said that some of the gas tanks that are imported into the Kurdistan Region have failed regulatory inspections in other countries, which puts residents here at risk.

"It is our duty…to prepare a number of new instructions and put them to a vote in the council," Amin said.