The fire tragedy at Chawkbazar of old Dhaka on Wednesday night has taken the whole nation by the shell-shock. The most devastating ever fire accident in the contemporary history ensued probably from the electric short circuit at a cosmetic chemical factory has so far taken away 81 innocent lives and left more than 51 injured. The Nimtoli claustrophobia in 2010 took away 124 lives and left 100 injured and the spot of occurrence was the same old Dhaka. Only after just two years break Tajreen Fire Tragedy killed 117 innocent garments workers leaving many others injured. The promptness of the highest state protocol and round-the-clock media coverage are very typical phenomena people are quite used to.
The last major fire accident occurred just a few days back at Vera Market in Bakalia Thana of Chattogram Sadar in which nine sleeping people were burnt alive. The recurrence of fire incidents in rapid frequency has shockingly exposed our sheer insecurity and helplessness before the engulfing blaze to the limit. In all these mentioned fire incidents, two common denominators will obviously be noticed which evidently show elements of human negligence and impoverished background of the victims. Fire disasters occur in the fashion of a vicious cycle and every such accident is characteristically marked by high sounding promises of security yet virtually zero implementation is recorded on the ground.After the devastating fire accident of Nimtoli, it was emphatically declared that all the fire-sensitive inflammable chemical factories will be relocated to isolated safer locations in the soonest possible time but even after nine years not a single factory has been dismantled or dislodged from the residential areas of old Dhaka let alone 850 latently explosive frying pans. How dare the chemical factory owners carry on their potentially dangerous business amid residential quarters so long a time before the promise-makers of the state functionaries? It is time to find out the culprits and the compromise-brokers and deal out severe exemplary punishments to these criminals playing with innocent lives.
Although electric short circuit is reportedly the prime cause of industrial and building fires, other causes are still there behind the incidence of fire accidents. In erecting and expanding fire-resistant shield, shocking insincerity and nearly-zero devotion on the part of the responsible authority of the state is clearly noticed prima facie although the pressure groups’ offstage influence, no doubt, has torn quite a bigger hole in the fire safety net. It is seen that three areas like the garments industries, the city shanties and the old Dhaka residential areas are the most common venues of occurrence of fire accidents. Besides, another suicidal trend is also seen to persist in fire related accidents which is accumulation of inflammable chemicals in population-crammed and congested areas in old quarters of the capital. Out of 1,000 chemical factories, 850 are presently located in old Dhaka.
It is a matter of serious concern that both garments workers and shanty-dwellers who usually live in abject poverty happen to be the hapless victims of fire accidents. The occurrence of fire accidents time and again and the common victims of these incidents have evidently proved that working class of people are clearly beyond the fire protection coverage of the Home Department as well as the Disaster Management Department who are supposed to provide fire safety to the people especially the helpless and the poor.
When the poor and the vulnerable section of the society repeatedly are becoming the victims of fire accidents, it gives a message to the entire society that we are least careful about the safety and security of the people who can hardly fend for themselves. Again, the measures to protect these vulnerable people are not apparently at sight. Once all sounds and furies are over, no practical protective measures are seen on the ground.
Undoubtedly, the well-offs are well-shielded against fire accidents precisely because they can afford the personal fire security at their own arrangements. Fire accident victims among the rich people have been reportedly the fewest. However, we usually see that the fire extinguishing department is found to be the more concerned about the elite class of the society even though they have arrangements for fire. A radical attitudinal shift is urgently needed to reach out to the vulnerable people who can hardly make both ends meet with the money they earn.
Whenever a fire incident takes place in a sprawling shanties, it rapidly spreads throughout the entire shanty and in an unbelievably fast pace guts the whole shanty before any practical help can really reach the spot. It is a very familiar picture that the helpless fire victims are wailing on the ashes of their belongings. The fire-fighting unit comes but they do come when it is too late and when they really come, all the damage is done. It is still a mystery as to why fire-fighters are sluggish in responding the fire alarm. True that there are some genuine drawbacks and inconveniences on the part of the fire-fighters in fighting fire effectively in the shanties but their relaxed response to shanties is obviously deplorable.Incident of fire is obviously a disaster that usually destroys each and every belonging of the victim. Since 98 per cent fire victims belong to the most vulnerable segment of the society, their treatment and rehabilitation have to be given the topmost priority. The victims who have been affected so far by fire accidents have got scanty financial support from the government that has played a little role in rehabilitating them back in their former position.
To successfully combat fire accidents, we have to put utmost emphasis on latest technology and devices which have been long in vogue in the developed as well as many developing countries. There are little chances of belittling such a highly serious concern where there is a question of life and living of have-nots. A fire-victims welfare fund has to be created under the guardianship and supervision of the acceptably trustworthy people of the country. Rehabilitating the impoverished fire-victims is not the responsibility to be done solely by the government. The affluent and the solvent sections of the society will have to contribute lavishly to this welfare fund. Above all, the most important thing to remember is that now is the time to brush aside the rhetoric and do something visibly practical.
The writer is an Assistant Professor of English, Bogura Cantonment Public School & College.