Tuesday, May 21, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

Burned into our memories

Will Bangladesh ever be concerned about citizen lives and enforce a practice of safety and precaution?

Update : 04 Mar 2024, 03:30 PM

Dhaka is already one of the least liveable cities in the world, and recurring fire incidents are not improving its appeal. The fire at Green Cozy Cottage on Bailey Road on the night of February 29, was the latest of these incidents, and it is unlikely to be the last. 

The inferno killed 46 people and quickly spread to other floors, trapping hundreds inside. Some leapt to their deaths in a bid to escape the smoke and heat, as firefighters combed through the charred shell of the building. Some managed to make it to safety by sliding down cables on the side of the building. Videos shared on social media captured the harrowing scenes of this tragedy.

Firefighters on long ladders smashed windows to create escape routes. More than one hour after the blaze erupted, people could still be seen on the floors desperately waving for help amid clouds of black smoke.

The fire was brought under control after two hours of frantic efforts; 12 fire service units along with Ansar, BGB, and police worked to douse the fire. Rescue crews were soon discovering bodies in numbers and carrying them out in white bags. Many survivors were admitted to the burn unit at DMCH and other hospitals, and are currently undergoing treatment.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has expressed her anger over the absence of fire exits in the building on Bailey Road in the capital and instructed the relevant authorities to raise awareness among the public to prevent further loss of life in such tragedies.

These fire disasters regularly hit Bangladesh's major cities where safety standards are notoriously lax. According to a 2012 study by BUET, most high-rise buildings in the capital have inadequate fire safety measures. “We found only two buildings fully compliant,” Professor Mehedi Ahmed Ansari said of the survey on 112 buildings, adding that some were little more than death traps.

A long and detailed investigation will establish the causes of this fire, but one obvious conclusion can be drawn without having to wait, this was a man-made cataclysm

The government authorities have ordered a probe into the incident to examine claims that the building lacked fire equipment, its fire exits were inadequate and it had been illegally extended. The building is not a reinforced fire-resistant concrete hull construction. No emergency lights, fire alarms, fire sprinkler systems, or emergency exits were fitted. Inspections of the building frequently found stairs blocked with stored goods and exit doors locked.

A long and detailed investigation will establish the causes of this fire, but one obvious conclusion can be drawn without having to wait, this was a man-made cataclysm.

The enforcement of fire safety must be prioritized. Those in charge of these tall buildings seem to ignore all measures in place to restrict fires from spreading and also those that enable a safe passage for people in case of danger. The safety and security of people in the building are declined in order to maximize the utility of the building’s space -- as is often the greedy culture of business in Bangladesh. After such disasters, those responsible are frequently waived with impunity, but they must be held accountable and punished as though they were directly involved setting the building ablaze.

Modern standards of precaution must be mandated from the building’s inception, and the developers of the building should be responsible for upholding such practices. Agreeing to build such hazardous units should be a crime. 

Fire services and response must also be developed and equipped with modern tools that enable them to respond swiftly, contain the fire, reduce damage, and save as many lives as possible.

As a society, we too share responsibility in remaining complicit and proliferating such a culture of apathy until disaster strikes and it is far too late. It is time we take such concerns seriously and truly value the innocent lives of our fellow Banlgadeshis.


Anwar A Khan is a freedom fighter who writes on politics and international issues.

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