The Daily Life of Kawther Salam

  ..: Building Rehabilitations in Vienna Under Question Marks? :..
June 25, 2008
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For over 20 years of working as a journalist and a defender of the Human rights, and  after six years of living in Vienna and taking part in different Human rights activities and conferences in Europe. Speaking at the Universities and exposing the violation of the human rights in my previous homeland. I found myself part of the Austrian society and that I am obliged to go a head in the same direction of defending the Austrian Rights.

In Vienna, the media is all but silent about issues like human rights and the other subjects which are part of the daily life of common Austrians. The journalists report in great detail about sex, dogs, cats, singers, parties, models, the shoes of the Chancellor and other trivial issues. These themes are interesting for a small part of Austrians, but not for the majority of society. There are many important issues of interest to common Austrians, which are very important and should be discussed openly and in public, but which are silenced by the media.

Giving a Radio interview In this article I take a view at the rehabilitation of old damaged buildings in Austria. The buildings about which I want to talk were built in the 1920 years for poor people by the Socialist party, as a home for workers. The first fights between the socialist and conservative-fascist forces took place in these buildings during  the civil war of February 1934. I am currently living in one of these buildings.

The positive and the negative results of this rehabilitation which may cause a very dangerous reflection on the national level of the Austrian security.

I also want to put the human rights and the dangers which threat the people who live in these old buildings under the threat of the natural elements of destruction, the earth warming, and the weather changes.

Hundreds of thousands of people were killed in different countries because of earthquakes and other natural catastrophes, which in many cases resulted in the destruction of buildings over the head of their inhabitants. The unusual patterns of earthquakes during the last years tell us that there is no guarantee of safety in any country on earth, but there are some prevention measures which can help to decrease the damage done by natural catastrophes. One of these measures is to strengthen the infrastructure of new buildings, and to rehabilitate the existing old buildings, and to watch the companies who do such work.

I must ask some questions in order to clarify the things for readers, taking in consideration that Austria is a state where human rights are respected, where the law and security protects everybody who lives here. Hopefully, Austria will forever remain this way.

Rehabilitation Under Questions Marks

Is the rehabilitation of old buildings in Austria a responsibility of the government or of private investment companies?

Why and how were these old buildings of the SPÖ transferred to private investments companies?

Did the SPÖ sell these buildings? Have there been many municipality buildings turned over to private owners for renting?

Is the work of rehabilitation of these investment companies under the control of the Austrian Government?

The broken corner of our building which is fixed with metalDo these investment companies take in their consideration the possibility of a nature catastrophes, like earthquakes and storms, when they rehabilitate these old buildings?

Are silicon tubes approved by the Austrian law for strengthening the damaged and broken walls of old buildings as the only solution for rehabilitation?

How many damaged walls were rehabilitated using silicon and presented to the people as a newly constructed apartments?

Does rig of the infrastructure during rehabilitation consider as crime by the Austrian Law?

How many rehabilitated building will fall down over the head of their inhabitants if a light earthquake affects any region in Austria?

How many thousands of Austrians will die or become homeless because of these buildings rehabilitated by private companies?

Is there a governmental committee for security, nature, and environment, experts who decide which buildings should be rehabilitated in Austria and which ones should be removed and replaced by new ones?

How does the Austrian government control the rehabilitation work done by these investment companies?

Does the Austrian government send their inspectors to the field in order to observe and to be sure that these investment companies are following the right steps of security during the rehabilitation?

Do the private investment companies take in there consideration the basic need of the human being when reconstructing the old buildings?

Do these investment companies take in their consideration the Austrian national security interests as a premise for their work, or do they take in account their interest to accumulate wealth in consideration before anything else?

Do these private investment companies think that rehabilitation means to add some new apartments on the rooftop of old and damaged buildings while ignoring the basic status of the infrastructure of buildings smelling of mold and with walls so damaged that it can be seen?

Are there any negative consequences for people who occupy these buildings during construction work?

Where and to whom should the people send their complains against violating their basic rights by the investment companies when doing such rehabilitation work?

Catastrophe in our Building

These and many other questions occurred to me since the international media brings us daily news of nature catastrophes which have caused huge destruction and loss of human lives in different countries. And since I live in the middle of a construction work in Vienna, one of the worker homes built long time ago and now turned into private property, I have seen horrible things caused by the irresponsibility and anarchy of the work of rehabilitation, the continuous violation of the basic rights of the residents, specially old and the sick people, who are denied the possibility to live quiet in their apartments by willfully ignorant owners, who couldn't care less about the continued complaints of the residents.

The unsecured construction elevator: retrieving the dead workerThe "rehabilitation" of our building, or actually the addition of new apartments on the roof of these buildings, started last year and has already cost the life of one of the workers. This worker fell from the third floor while using the construction elevator, because the unsecured doors opened suddenly. The death of this worker caused many of us who knew him a shock. According to Austrian laws, workers are forbidden from using this kind of material elevator, but the boss of the construction work used it and gave the example, so soon they all were using it, and, as I expected, the tragedy occurred.

At the beginning of construction work, to add new apartments "made of metal, wood, and glass, which I described as an oven for human being in Summer, and a freezer in Winter " on the rooftop of these old buildings infested by mold, the construction garbage, and the workers spit, and smoke started appearing everywhere on the stairs and at the entrances of our apartments. The housekeeper was cleaning and the workers threw the garbage behind her before she finish the work. The construction company did not pay the housekeeper an extra expenses, as well they left us live in the middle of dunghill.

The workers started using giant drills to cut through walls. The walls of many apartments cracked, in one apartment the roof fell in while there were people living inside; many things broke inside our apartments, and the earth of construction came through my old door which has a long hall from the middle until down. I asked the owner of the house to repair my door, but the representative of the house was very angry, he yelled on me and turned the things to the opposite. He said that everything in my apartment is OK, and that I am not all right in my complaint against the dirt.

The entrance to my apartmentNow I must clean daily because I am the only resident who lives between four construction workshops, sharing with one of them the same wall, with the second my front door, with the third one my roof, and the fourth one is in the third floor of the same building. Additionally, I had to pay extra expenses for electricity because of the daily use of the vacuum cleaner. Most of time I have to ran away out of my apartment because of the noise, I had an accident while I was running away, and was transferred to the hospital.

Continued noise disturbed the residents of the buildings too, everybody became nervous. Some of the residents ran away to live with their families. One neighbor was operated: she suffered lots because of the noise. We live in the middle of a construction site, yet we must pay the same rent. The workers started their work very early even on Saturday, the weekend for the residents, most of them workers and employees. The dirt was everywhere, during winter the cold increased because of the openings in the walls and the deformed window and door frames, what caused us extra expenses on top of our bills.

A broken corner of my apartment, which was filled with siliconeThe walls of my apartment were broken, the corners of my apartments cracked and mold appeared, causing me serious health problems and a weeklong fight with the house owner, who would not fix this.

The general situation of our building is serious. From the window of my house I realized that the outside corners of the building, from the first floor until the fifth floor, are covered with a thin metal shape, perhaps the corner of the building was broken and was fixed in this way. The boss of the construction told me that the situation of the buildings is unsafe for everybody, and the buildings should be removed, but it's not my decision to do that, I am just implementing what the company ask me to do. I wrote the owner of the house about that, I clarified him my observation, I asked him to repair my walls, but since I wrote him he started treating me in an unfriendly manner, he sent me somebody to fill the broken corner with silicon. and to clean the mold.

Air Pollution

Who can save our lives? The stairs and the main entrance were left for some days without electricity. It was difficult for the residents to get out or to come in during the night. I bought a small light, so that I can get in and out of my flat during the night.

Finally the company want to link the gas to the new apartments which they made on the roof, they cut the gas from the whole building without warning. The gas tube was apparently damaged. On the second day, a neighbor came and knocked at my door, asked if I had hot water. She did not know that the hot water was gone for one week. The residents survived one week without gas, drinking coffee, cooking, showering or washing. This was very difficult for everybody. After cutting off the gas who knows what will happen tomorrow? Who knows what other problems will appear during the work?

Oxygen pipes and construction material on the stairsSince the gas was turned off in our building, the workers started welding pipes with an oxygen torch on the stairs, they leave their construction materials spread up and down the stairs, making it difficult to reach our apartments. During the day the smell of the oxygen welding pollutes the air. The stench of burnt synthetic materials attacks all the residents. During the last two months, the workers have also been using construction materials with strong smell, and causing the health of the residents to suffer. After the Gas company finished their work, our building left one week with the garbage spread everywhere in front of our doors.

Anyway, since I live in this apartment I feel at night the air coming through the corner of my apartment, the heating was not helping me in winter and I have been forced to use an extra cover. Never I understood that, but since the walls of the same corner of my apartment cracked as a result of using all the drilling,  and since I saw the outside metal corner which fixed the outside walls, I understood that the infrastructure of the building is damaged and not safe for the life of human beings.

The blocked way to our building Last week the company construction locked the main way to our building, they decided to make an elevator "JUST" for the new apartments on the roof. So they locked the way of the old residents who occupy the building nearby. We have to go around the buildings and to pass by all the construction dirt in order get out or to reach our apartments.

If anyone decides to find another apartment, there is no way for him to remove his furniture from under the construction material. Our eyes became sick of seeing all the dirt since the last year, and until the next year. I am astonished of the serious violation of the human rights which reaches a very high level in Europe under top silence of media. I wonder if I am living in the 20th one century in Europe, or in the 9th century?

On the other hand, since we live in the middle of this daily noise, the owner company has raised the price of the rent instead of reducing it. The company workers are also unhappy because of our continued calling and complaining. I was astonished when a owner representative during a tour of the construction site knocked at my door loudly, instead of ringing the bell. He also talked to me in an unfriendly way and insulted me. According to him I rent the apartment from inside and I don't have any right to complain about anything out of my door.

There are many Austrians who suffer the same problems; there are many private companies who bought the old damaged house in Austria. Some of these companies are rehabilitating the old building in the right way, and some other companies are doing "Pfusch" work (moonlighting) and threatening the security of innocent people.

The story of our building is an example of many other old buildings which threat the security of the inhabitants of Austria.

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