Time is perilous. In fact it has been so for the past one year and nine months. Of this terrible time, for about one and a half years the air was heavy with the uncanny but unmistakeable smell of death and decimation. At times to be alive was less certain than falling prey to the disease codenamed Covid-19. That phase is apparently over although a more transmissible variant than any of the earlier strains is now on the rampage, particularly in Europe and America.
Bangladesh may not have experienced the heavy loss of lives like some of the world's advanced countries and neighbouring India have had but some of the eminent personalities ---quite a few of them larger than life--- fell victim to Covid-19. The total death now standing at more than 28,000 is not insignificant either. There was time when all the casualties from tragic incidents of a given time could hardly relegate the deaths and infections to the second place. In July the number of deaths went up well above the 200 mark until it hit the highest total of 264 in a single day.
During this long period, tragedies befell the country time and again. Road accidents have now become so common that all concerned seem to have surrendered to this, accepting it as nothing but inevitability. Fires, accidental or otherwise, turning into infernos have also claimed lives and property particularly in a number of slums. In the latest fire on a launch with hundreds of passengers on board is a one-off huge tragedy. Another common type of tragedy is explosion from leaked or accumulated natural gas used for cooking in residential and other buildings. The danger from liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) cylinder has only added a new dimension to the gas explosion problem. Tragedies of both kinds have claimed a number of lives by this time.
Loss of life in unusual circumstances is always heart-breaking but there are tragedies that make our hearts cry out in agony. One such heart-wrenching incident occurred on Thursday last. The explosion of a helium cylinder used for inflating balloons in a village under Nangalkot Upazila of Cumilla District left as many as 41 injured, 10 of them seriously. It is particularly painful because the majority of the victims are children who gathered there to see how the cylinder operator inflated the colourful balloons. Next morning would have been a joyous occasion for the children because on that day every year a fair is arranged on the school field where the tragedy occurred. Five of the critically injured with severe burn were brought to the Sheikh Hasina Institute of Burn and Plastic Surgery. Others are agonising with burn and splinters, some with thousands in their bodies, and still others with broken organs.
The ferocity of the blast can be imagined by the impact. And this is not for the first time that children have become the primary victim to helium gas cylinder explosion. It happened at least twice before in the capital city claiming lives and leaving others maimed. By the look of those cylinders, it becomes apparent that the cylinders are worn-out and have long passed their active life. Those who operate those may not even be aware of the expiry date if it is at all inscribed on those devices.
This might be the prime reason behind explosion of the cylinder that was meant to be used for blowing up balloons ---a source of joy and fancy for kids. But now these are turning out to be killing machines. So it is incumbent on the authorities concerned to check all helium gas cylinders in use to see if they pose similar risks to life. There is one simple alternative method to helium gas for blowing up and floating balloons. Such alternatives can be used if helium cylinders prove so dangerous. Let children's joy not turn into outsize tragedies.