Government organisations are often found content with observing International Day for Disaster Reduction with grandeur on October 13 although at least 190 people were killed, hundreds of others were wounded and property worth Tk 1,456 crore was damaged in 52,176 fire incidents in three years. Bangladesh celebrated the day this year to promote risk awareness and disaster reduction while fire incidents remain to be a regular phenomenon. Investigations have found that the general apathy of the authorities concerned to workplace safety, including fire-fighting measures, was mostly responsible for all this. Moreover, age-old laws and rules meant for regulating buildings, coupled with inadequate monitoring, contributed to the situation.
In the backdrop of a number of outbreaks of fire in factories since the Nimtali disaster a few years ago, the demand for immediate removal of all chemical factories and warehouses from residential areas has become an authentic demand since the high incidence of fire at factories was mostly caused by the combustible chemicals stored in such factories and warehouses in residential areas. Regrettably, the authorities concerned missed several deadlines to accomplish this task. What remains worrying is that nothing is visible as yet about the relocation of these factories and warehouses. Authorities need to realise that certain residential neighbourhoods in Dhaka are virtually floating on incendiary materials as most of the regions abut onto the chemical warehouses and factories located therein. In most areas of Old Town, buildings have been constructed so close to each other that, in the case of a fire, flames would spread in no time. Nobody wants to witness any more catastrophes only because of the negligence of the authorities concerned. Besides relocation of chemical warehouses and factories from residential areas, the immediate need is to minimise the risks and adopt safety measures as flawlessly as possible. The issue at hand is non-compliance by the authorities concerned with the Fire Prevention and Dousing Act 2003. The act stipulates that multi-storey buildings should file reports on fire safety measures to the authorities concerned. It also says that there should be regular fire drill. Unfortunately, compliance with such provisions has gone by default.
The government, under the circumstances, needs to revamp the fire service and provide for adequate logistic support. Besides this, it must take steps to run awareness programmes and ensure that every urban facility has its own fire-fighting mechanism without having to wait for the arrival of fire engines from another quarter of any city.
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