Friday's fire incident in Armanitola, which has so far claimed four lives and left 17 more people battling for survival at the city's Sheikh Hasina Burn Institute, has again brought to the fore the fact that relevant authorities have not done the bare minimum to ensure the promised shifting of the chemical shops and warehouses from the old part of Dhaka for more than a decade. The transfer was necessary to make the living in congested areas of the old city safe and secure.
The scale of the latest fire that reportedly originated from a chemical warehouse on the ground floor of a multistoried residential building in Armanitola was small compared to a couple of devastating fires that had broken out in old Dhaka in the recent past. At least 126 persons died when chemical warehouses caught fire following the blast of an electric transformer in Nimtoli on June 03, 2010. The second fire that occurred in Churihatta on February 20, 2019, had also originated from a chemical warehouse. At least 78 people perished in the second fire.
The question that everybody now will be asking is: What have the relevant government agencies done during the last decade to stop the recurrence of fire incidents involving chemical storages in residential areas? Several committees were formed and those had submitted reports containing appropriate suggestions. The government leaders also had made lots of promises.
But at the end of the day, nothing has happened; hundreds of chemical shops and warehouses are still doing business in the old part of Dhaka. Only a small number of warehouses have been shifted to Keraniganj across the river Buriganga and the rest are still operating in the old city.
This time will also be a flurry of activities centring on the fire incident and also the parties involved will point an accusing finger at each other. After days, things will subside and everybody, as a matter of tradition, would forget everything until another accident of similar nature happening somewhere in the old city.
The obvious question is: Why are people living in the fire accident-prone areas not forcing the chemical shops and warehouses to relocate? The local ward commissioners can take a lead role in this connection. Without a bold initiative taken at the local level, it is hard to get rid of these facilities. The local people must realise the dangers of living with highly inflammable chemicals stored in their buildings or the ones located next door.
The government, hopefully, would sincerely try to implement the suggestions made by probe committees constituted after the two major fire incidents in Nimtali and Churihatta. If the government means business, the shifting of chemical establishments will not be a big problem. The city corporation, on its part, should scrap the trade licence and the controller of exports and imports the import licence of any chemical store that refuses to leave the places in question. Genuine actions must start any further delay.