One of our housemaids lost everything in the previous fire at Korail slum. This time, another maid has just lost everything too, as her residence was razed to the ground in the fire on March 16. Three years ago, the same thing happened to another maid of ours.
According to some reports, this time about 400 shanties were gutted.
On the morning of March 16, the residents of those houses were seen on the pavements with whatever property they could save.
Now these people have no place to go, no place to live, and nothing to eat. They’ll have to toil for a few months in order to rebuild.
Incidents of fire have become chronic in this area for quite some time now, and we have become silent observers of loss of property and human lives.
Remember the chemical factory fire at Nimtoli in 2010 that caused huge public outcry for the relocation of chemical warehouses and stores from the area?
Incidents of fire have become chronic in this area for quite some time now, and we have become silent observers of loss of property and human lives
How many were actually relocated? According to environmentalist groups and the fire service, there are over 1,000 chemical factories and warehouses in Dhaka city of which 850 are running illegally.
Millions in Old Dhaka are living at extreme risk of life as many residential and commercial buildings are being used as chemical factories and warehouses in the area.
Very recently, a team of experts of the Fire Service and Civil Defence had identified around 400 chemical factories in residential buildings in Old Dhaka after conducting an investigation. How many have relocated? We don’t know. Lately, a drive has begun pressuring factory owners to relocate.
We don’t know how many years it would take to relocate these factories to a safe area.
Some reports claim that over a thousand shopping malls and markets in Dhaka city were built without mandatory fire-safety clearance and those now pose a serious threat.
The director of Fire Service and Civil Defence, Major AKM Shakil Newaz, was quoted as saying the extremely risky (with no fire-safety necessities) or risky (with some fire-safety measures installed) commercial establishments have been in operation for years without fire-safety clearance.
They inspected 1,126 private and government-owned malls, super markets, and kitchen markets and found 1,080 to be extremely risky or risky.
If this is the present scenario, we have reason to be alarmed. If our conscience isn’t stirred, we have reason to believe that we have reached a point of collective wretchedness. We are incapable when it comes to creating a congenial society for ourselves.
Let’s take a look at the fire incidents that had taken place in our apparel factories. Hundreds of workers have died in our factory fires over the years.
It was only recently that the buyers became successful in forcing the government and factory owners to create fire-safe workplaces.
If there hadn’t been any pressure from the buyers, perhaps our factory owners would have continued with the same old unsafe factories and wishy-washy practices of turning the factories truly compliant.
Things are settling down in the garments sector; the incidence of fire in those factories has reduced. So, it seems we’ve learned to make workplaces a bit safer. This proves that making the factories fire-safe is possible, given our willingness.
It seems it is always the international community who instills a sense of safety in us.
Is it only in the face of international pressure that we budge?
Are we not capable of assessing our own safety? What makes us so nonchalant about saving our own people’s lives?
We have city and development authorities across the country. How can the shopping malls be built without fire safety measures? How can builders get away with such a crime? Should we conclude that the officials lack integrity in this respect?
As far as I have seen, fire department officials are very eager in delivering their responsibilities.
They put their heart and soul during a fire or rescue incidence. But it is only for us that they are having to come out in the first place.
In the case of Korail, water-carrying vehicles couldn’t enter the slum as there’s no space for them to enter.
Whoever is running the slums in this city should have understood by now that these areas are fire-prone; they should have made sure that these vehicles can enter during such an incident.
Why do I get the feeling nothing will change even after this fire?
Ekram Kabir is a fiction writer.