Fears of urban fires are rising across major cities in Bangladesh, especially the capital Dhaka, with authorities and victims pointing to a lack of safety measures and gross violations of construction regulations.
“If you look at the buildings across the country, including the capital, Dhaka, you will find almost 98% have no fire safety measures as per rules,” Lt. Col. Zillur Rahman, Director of Operations and Maintenance at the Fire Service and Civil Defense, told Anadolu Agency.
According to records, nearly 19,000 fire incidents occurred in Bangladesh in 2020, killing more than 200 people and incurring around 1.6 billion Bangladeshi taka ($19M) in damages. A total of 184 people were killed in 2019 in more than 24,000 fires that cost an excess of 3.3 billion taka ($40M) in property damage.
“We have enough international standard instruments and skilled manpower in our department. But to prevent fires, the role of building owners and users is more important,” said Rahman.
Referring to the existing building code, he added that every concrete structure must have water reservation, pump and sufficient fire extinguishers while multi-storied buildings have to maintain hose reel, hose pipe and alternative wide stairs for emergency exit.
“But even in the upscale areas of the capital of Dhaka, these legal bindings are not maintained for long. If these safety measures are ensured, fire incidents will be automatically downed in a significant level and in case of any accident damages and live fatalities can be brought to a minimum level,” he said.
- Violations at big structures
At least 52 workers were killed and 35 injured in a fire in July at a food factory in the country's central district of Narayanganj, the easternmost closest city from Dhaka.
The six-storied factory building was reportedly not maintaining safety rules. The only main gate of the factory was locked from outside and there were no additional stairs for emergency exit and fire extinguishers inside.
According to fire service sources, most of the buildings either being used residentially or commercially do not maintain required fire safety measures.
As a result of such weak management, congested structures and the rapid growth of high-rise buildings in the south Asian country of nearly 170 million people, deadly fires frequently occur.
At least 70 people were killed in a massive blaze that engulfed several multistory buildings in the old part of Dhaka in 2019. In 2010, another fire killed 123 in the same area.
In March 2019, a fire killed at least 25 people and injured dozens in the upscale Banani area of Dhaka.
Rohingya refugee camps in the southern district of Cox’s Bazar have also been affected by fires.
A major fire on March 22 killed at least 15 and gutted more than 10,000 shanties along with a camp-based Turkish field hospital in the world’s largest refugee settlement.
- Demand for consolidated efforts
Mohammad Sabbir Hossain, 25 is one of the thousands of victims who lost everything in a fire in a slum in Dhaka in June.
Hossain, who was married one month before the fire, rented a room in the Sat Tala Basti slum and he had a small grocery shop near his house that was his only source of livelihood.
The fire completely destroyed his house and shop, leaving him with nothing. “I never want such a disaster even for my enemy.”
He is still living in the same slum and struggling to resume his shop operations with loans and support from relatives.
He told Anadolu Agency that even though the fire gutted more than 1,000 shanties and 100 shops, there was no additional arrangement for safety.
“In our slum, there are more than 10,000 shanties and over 500 shops and one big vegetable market. So at least some fire extinguishers should be set here,” said Mohammad Hadis Mia, 60, another resident of the slum.
A housewife in the slum, Jannati Shilpi, 25, said: “It is still a nightmare to us whenever we think about the June fire. We observed how everything was destroyed before the very eyes of us.”
No casualties were reported in the fire because it took place in the early morning and residents managed to escape.
The fire service director said authorities must strengthen their vigilance to ensure safety measures at every structure.
“In all city corporations, government and non-government agencies and service providers should work under a mega plan of concerned city corporations in a consolidated way,” said Rahman.