The sorry state of fire safety in Bangladesh
There you go!
Once again, our prime minister herself, despite the presence of thousands of experts for the job, had to think about it and put forward the nation’s fire-prevention proposals and directives.
As far as I know, she studied literature at university. Despite having a literature background, she could think of such solutions to fire prevention. It has been possible for her because she has been thinking about possible solutions to a problem.
On the other hand, the thousands of engineers, architects, city planners, security specialists and other officials who are in charge of preventing the fire-related risks didn’t seem to be pro-active about their responsibilities. After the FR Tower disaster, the people we are holding responsible are actually the result of the irresponsible system developed by some irresponsible officials.
Whenever a disaster happens, we get grief-stricken, and at the same time, energized. Ideas pour in, we start searching for the guilty persons, but we do forget that almost everyone involved could be responsible. Who extended permission to these unsafe buildings? Who is supposed to monitor the health and safety measures in these buildings? A news report says that about 65% of buildings in Dhaka city are unsafe to live in, and don’t have any fire-safety measures.
When one incident happens, we decide to accomplish many things so that the same incident doesn’t recur. However, if we remember the Nimtoli fire properly, we had already decided to remove all kinds of chemical warehouses and shops from that part of the city at that time. Nothing tangible has happened since we took those decisions. Nothing in a real sense.
This time, after the Chawkbazar fire, the authorities had again said that they would implement those decisions related to fire safety in that area. But as yet, we haven’t seen any development. But things aren’t going in the direction that we want. Our problem is that we let the problems reach a point of no return, and when a disaster takes place, we, then, want to return.
Our behaviour is surprisingly funny. We build seemingly glamourous high-rises without thinking of proper parking facilities; without any proper health and safety measures. And when disaster strikes, we start looking for the guilty persons.
Dhaka’s development authorities are now on a drive for finding out the unsafe and illegal establishments across the city. They reportedly have found that most of the high-rises didn’t follow proper building code, don’t have adequate safety measures, and didn’t care to ensure a safe environment.
I cannot help asking one question: Are the buildings that the offices of the city development authority are housed in safe? Do they have adequate fire-safety measures? We are already hearing that the Dhaka North City Corporation office is not safe; the mayor himself said that. How can you inspect others’ properties and provide judgments against them when your own house is not in order?
Now, the authorities weren’t supposed to wait for some deaths and start their drive against those responsible.
In spite of proper monitoring and measures against the irresponsible people, some unscrupulous officials have been helping these non-compliant buildings to operate, and even extend.
I don’t think the authorities were ignorant of the fact that many developers or building owners were erecting the establishments illegally. They surely knew, and didn’t take any corrective steps in time. They either overlooked the irregularities, or wrongly allowed them to go on. When the irregularities are done over, or any accident happens, they become very active in finding out the guilty persons. Isn’t that deplorable?
This means there’s a lack of good governance in this sector. The persons responsible for monitoring the irregularities have to be accountable.
Kindly allow me to cite another example. There are many apartment buyers who have been cheated by developing companies. In most cases, the buyers don’t know about the irregularities of the developers. When all kinds of transactions are over, the authorities come rushing in to evict the buyer from the apartment. However, they don’t say anything to the developers; the companies go scot-free but the buyers become victims of the sudden realization of the authorities.
Remember the fire incident at Suhrawardy Hospital? The newspapers reported that more than 95% of Bangladesh’s hospitals don’t have any fire compliance.
That many hospitals? Well, if there are 20,000 hospitals in the country, 19,000 of them don’t follow any fire safety measures! This cannot be happening to us. What have our health care authorities been doing?
Someone has to ensure that all hospitals, factories, schools, colleges, and universities across the country are brought under fire safety compliance.
In spite of shouldering my own responsibilities in time, I dip my fingers in corrupt practices, and when the time for accountability comes, I hold someone else responsible.
In this way, nothing, perhaps, will change. The loss of lives will continue. There will be many more deaths; there will be many more Nimtolis, Chawkbazars, and FR Towers.
Ekram Kabir is a story-teller. His works can be found on ekramkabir.com.