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বাংলা
Dhaka Tribune

Korail shanty town fire

‘Is there no one to help us?’

  • 250 houses were destroyed in the fire
  • ‘Please don't give us food and arrange shelters over our heads’
Update : 02 Apr 2024, 02:07 PM

Just entering the Korail shanty town (slum), 60-year-old Ankuri Begum was seen cradling her one-year-old grandson tightly, with a mosquito coil burning beside her. 

Her family huddled together in their only shelter—a makeshift polythene shed surrounded by the remnants of burnt clothes.

Around 220 families, victims of a recent fire that ravaged the shanty town, are living in similar conditions. For a week now, they have called these makeshift shelters their home.

While visiting the place, it was seen that some of the residents of the shanty town have used their burnt clothes to make beds for their children, and others have opted for jute sacks on the ground. 

The recent rains, extreme heat, and excessive mosquitoes have made living difficult for people, who are already going through a tough period.

It is learned that about 250 houses were burnt in the fire of the shanty town on March 24.

Image shows some burnt papers in Korail shanty town on Sunday, March 24, 2024. Photo: Ahadul Karim Khan/Dhaka Tribune

“I have been living in this shanty town for almost 22 years. Fires are a common occurrence here, but the blaze that broke out this time was massive. This marks the second occurrence of such a devastating fire in Korail,” said Ankuri Begum.

She recalled a similar incident that was reported during Ramadan four years ago and how she and her family had to take loans to rebuild their house. “We cannot even take loans this time.”

Pointing to her 20-year-old pregnant daughter Roksana, Ankuri said: "I am not in a position to protect my daughter. So I made a shelter somehow. Is there no one to help us?”

At that time, another victim of the fire, Asma Begum, asked the same question: "Is there no one to provide roofs over our heads? We don’t need food. Please don't give us food and arrange shelters over our heads.”

Through tears, Asma Begum, a house help, shared her story. “My husband is a rickshaw puller. We somehow manage our family. Four years ago, after that fire, we took loans and built the house that got burnt down. We could not even repay the loan yet”:

What happened that day?

The fire broke out at the shanty town on March 24. Upon receiving the news at 4:05pm, six firefighting units rushed to the spot and contained the blaze at around 5:33pm.

A Bangladesh Army team had also joined the fire service to help put out the flames.

Recalling the day, Asma Begum said she came back from work and saw her house on fire. “I could only take my son from the house. I could not salvage anything.” 

Another resident whose house was destroyed in the fire, Ramzan, said he was sleeping when the fire broke out. 

“I woke up due to the extreme heat and the southing of the people. I could not save anything except my own life,” he added. 

View of the Korail shanty town after a massive fire on Sunday, March 24, 2024. Photo: Ahadul Karim Khan/Dhaka Tribune

In addition to the houses in the slum, a madrasa built by Kamrangichar Dawatul Quran, built for the Hijra community residing in the shanty town was also charred.

The madrasa was a place for about 20-25 Hijra residents to learn Arabic. The devastating fire also destroyed most of their income.

Brihannala Jhuma said: "We had about Tk4 lakh in the wardrobe inside the madrasa. We were all outside when the fire started. Like every day, when I went home before Iftar, I saw the house on fire. I couldn't get anything out of it.”

Illegal gas connections 

It was seen that there was a gas line in every house of the shanty town Some were cooking in front of their houses by connecting the gas main line with a risky pipe. 

Razia Begum, a resident of the shanty town, who was at the spot at the time of the fire, said the gas pressure was a little high on that day. “The house from where the fire started also had a piped gas connection. The incident was probably caused by a line leakage.”

Meanwhile, during the rain, many people were seen cooking on the gas stove by connecting the pipe inside the house. 

Upon asking Sumona Begum why the gas line is being connected so dangerously, she replied, "What to do? We have no choice. We have to arrange gas, and electricity ourselves. Government officials often demolish houses on the streets. Then we borrow money to build the houses again.”

Photo shows a burnt gas cylinder in Korail shanty town on Sunday, March 24, 2034. Photo: Ahadul Karim Khan/Dhaka Tribune

She added that a few days ago, the houses here were demolished for drain work. “Later, I bought a place for two houses for Tk40,000. There is no space for a kitchen here. So when I see rain, I drag the pipe from the line and cook inside the house.”

While talking to Dhaka Tribune, Ward 19 Councillor Mofizur Rahman, said that all the gas connections in the shanty town are illegal. 

“There is no legal gas connection. We have tried many times to stop them but they are not human, they are inhuman. They prefer convenience over safety.”

He added that the electric lines in the shanty town were also illegal. “After I became the councillor, I legalized half the lines here. But the rest have not been done yet.”

He further stated that people of the Korail shanty town were threatening lives by illegally connecting gas every day. 

“We will send a list of 220 fire-affected people to the city corporation. The city corporation is trying to provide assistance by sending Tk10,000 to the affected people before Eid. Besides, I will provide relief to the affected people within a few days. Assistance will also be provided by UNDP,” the councillor added.

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