Old Dhaka in danger  

Shamsul Huq Zahid       | Published: February 24, 2019 22:26:50


What the nation is witnessing following the inferno at Old Dhaka's Chawkbazar is a repeat performance on the part of all concerned, including government entities, people's elected representatives and the media.

In the event of major fires, no matter if those affected industries or densely populated localities in the past, the people had the opportunity to hear promises aplenty about doing the needful to stop recurrence of similar accidents.

The worst devastating blaze in Dhaka City's history had struck the Nimtoli area of Old Dhaka in June 2010. A total of 124 lives perished and a large number of people received burn injuries in that fire. Many residential houses and business establishments were burned to ashes. The fire incident that originated from a chemical factory also made global media headlines.

Government leaders and its relevant agencies soon after the Nimtoli tragedy rushed to the spot soon after the fire was completely extinguished and they did what they usually do after a disaster, manmade or natural. They dished out lots of promises and the most important among those was the fast relocation of chemical factories and storages from Old Dhaka in some other places.

A number of probe bodies were formed to find out the causes of fire and suggest measures to stop recurrence of similar fire in Old Dhaka.

The media also did not fall behind as they dedicated a lot of space and air-time to the fire incident, its causes and opinion of all the people concerned, including so-called experts.

The relevant agencies, locals and relevant others were found to be unanimous on one particular issue--- relocation of chemical factories and storages from the old part of Dhaka City, for chemicals stored in factories and nearby houses were responsible for fast spread of the fire that had apparently originated from an electric short-circuit.

Newspapers had run follow-up stories on the presence of chemical stores in Old Dhaka for some time, but they, too, like other government agencies and Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) did forget the issue that many had described the Nimtoli fire as a 'wakeup call' for the DSCC and other government agencies.    

On the night of last Wednesday when the Churihatta intersection of Chawkbazar turned into a virtual inferno, all concerned, including the media, however, woke up to one reality---throughout the past nine years since the Nimtoli tragedy none had done anything to remove the establishments dealing in inflammable chemicals from Old Dhaka.

There is no guarantee that what is being said this time after the Chawkbazar fire by the government leaders and relevant others would be executed at the ground level.

Many locals are now blaming the authorities for their failure to relocate the chemical factories and warehouses. But some government high-ups are doing the opposite. They are blaming the traders and factory owners for their unwillingness to relocate their establishments.

There could be repetition of the acts that are taking place now in the event of any major fire accident in Old Dhaka in the future unless something effective is done to remove the inflammable chemicals from there and ensure fire safety of the local people.

However, such repetition of acts and statements is nothing unusual in this land. It does happen following major road accidents or passenger launch capsize or collapse of buildings. The people are accustomed to seeing all these.

Yet another irritating development that takes place after any major accident is the formation of official committees immediately. The reasons for irritation, in most cases, are inaction on the part of committees and lack of action on the reports submitted by such committees. Most reports are pushed under the rug as the agencies do remain busy doing other 'important' works.

But that should not happen in the case of the latest fire incident at Chawkbazar. The people dealing in chemicals, plastic materials and other inflammables for decades in old Dhaka would not naturally support relocation. So, the government would have to amend relevant laws and rules in this connection and get those implemented under any circumstances. Blaming traders would not do. The government should mean business, if it really wants to make the life of Old Dhaka people a little bit safe.

None can ignore the fact that Old Dhaka is in real danger. It is no secret that Dhaka is one of the worst cities on earth. Scores of international studies have brought this unpalatable truth to the fore. However, the situation prevailing in the old part of Dhaka is terrible, in terms of its population density, road networks and availability of other civic and health facilities. The number of old dilapidated buildings in this part of the city is dangerously high. In the event of an earthquake, there could be much bigger human tragedy in that part of the town. So, Old Dhaka does deserve far greater attention from the policymakers.

zahidmar10@gmail.com

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