Abandoned houses alert.
Forming a specialised joint committee is crucial to bridging the communication gap between authorities concerned to tackle this issue, which has been described by municipal councillors as a "social and environmental menace".
This was discussed during a meeting held yesterday by the Northern Municipal Council which was also attended by representatives from the Housing Ministry, Interior Ministry and the Northern Municipality.
According to councillors, the abandoned properties create an unsafe environment in residential neighbourhoods with rodent infestations, environmental hazards, immoral activities and even crimes.
Northern Governorate Police Directorate first lieutenant Salem Murad revealed during the meeting that there were a total of 161 abandoned houses and 12 fenced plots of land in the Northern Governorate, with most of the properties located in Hamad Town.
"These houses aren't just an environmental or social issue but they pose a security threat for the safety of the residents in the area," he said.
"They can be used for weapons storage and crimes such as drug use, rape and murder can happen inside them."
He explained that legally the police were not allowed to enter the private properties without a warrant or permission from the owner, or unless a crime was being committed or during an emergency such as a fire.
"As the Interior Ministry we are an executive authority not a legislative authority - if there was legislation in place it would make all our jobs easier," he added.
His comments were reiterated by Northern Municipality control and inspection department chief Abdulaziz Al Wadi, who said there was no proper legislation in place outlining procedures to demolish or deal with long-term abandoned houses.
"We have a procedure in place for dilapidated houses and they are treated as an emergency case and demolished," he said.
"We deal with such cases on a daily basis, but the problem lies in abandoned houses that aren't rundown, as we have no legal way to deal with these properties.
"We even need permission from the Public Prosecution to enter these properties to clear up waste that's been illegally dumped - there are legal obstacles."
Housing Projects Planning and Design Directorate acting director Adel Bin Rajab said the Housing Ministry faced similar obstacles as it does not have authority over privately-owned land.
Councillor Ahmed Al Mannai also highlighted an alarming increase in problems caused by abandoned properties within neighbourhoods and urged residents who witness illegal activities to report to the police instead of taking matters into their own hands.
"All these activities in these abandoned properties take place after midnight - which is both a nightmare and nuisance to the residents in the neighbourhood," he said.
"I've had complaints from residents about debauchery or drugs after midnight in some of these properties."
He also stressed the importance of a joint government committee to communicate between authorities concerned to tackle these issues swiftly.
"This committee will include representatives from the Interior Ministry, the Housing Ministry, the municipality, the council and the Works, Municipalities and Urban Planning Ministry to come up with a solution for this problem," he added.
"This is essential to ensure the peace of mind of citizens and their safety in their own neighbourhoods especially since this issue threatens our national security if these places are used to store weapons."
During the meeting, councillors agreed to raise the issue with the general committee which then present a proposal at the council's upcoming meetings for a vote.
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