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27 February, 2020 00:00 00 AM
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Malls still exposed to fire hazards

Rifat Islam, Dhaka
Malls still exposed to fire hazards

In recent years, the capital has witnessed devastating fires at Nimtali, Chawkbazar, Bashundhara and FR Tower, occurring almost at a regular interval. After each catastrophe, the government promises a flurry of measures, but they are limited to inspections and a handful of drills. As a result, most popular shopping malls in the capital are still without adequate firefighting equipment, emergency exits, and sufficient space between adjacent buildings, putting at risk the life and property of owners, tenants, and customers.

The Fire Service and Civil Defence (FSCD) identified 622 shopping malls and markets in Dhaka as extremely risky and 678 others as risky after conducting a survey on 1,305 commercial establishments from October to November 2017. The 622 very risky shopping malls include Chandni Chawk, Gaussia, New Market, Gulshan Tower, Bangabazar Complex, Polwel Super Market, Mirpur Shopping Complex, Shyamoli Garden and Lalmatia Aarong Market. A visit to some of these old shopping malls revealed that they lacked basic fire equipment like fire detectors, fire alarms, and fire extinguishers.

These markets are always crowded at the entrance, spilling over on to the street outside. Clothes and other products are stacked in every shop and alleys. On regular days, you have to push your way through narrow lanes to enter these shopping malls. There is no escape route for people if something untoward happens. The huge number of shoppers entering the popular market and lack of proper fire exits were major impediments to dealing with the Banani FR Tower fire accident. On March 28 last year, a massive fire broke out in that 23-storey building. Twenty-five bodies and almost 50 injured were recovered from the scene of the fire.

The firefighters had found the emergency exit closed, seriously hampering the rescue work. Places in old Dhaka adjacent to markets still have stocks of extremely hazardous flammable chemical warehouses. Risky factories are run without any safety measures, putting the lives of hundreds of people at serious risk. The densely populated neighbourhood witnessed two massive infernos. On June 3, 2010, the Nimtoli blaze claimed 123 lives. Almost 10 years later, another fire, caused by an explosion, at nearby Chawkbazar, left 71 dead and many more injured.

After the Nimtoli incident, a task force was formed to evict chemical warehouses from old Dhaka. Only 170 of them were sealed after an operation that lasted 33 days. The drive was then stopped due to unknown reasons.  As many as 2,500 chemical warehouses in the old part of the city are still running their business with trade licences. Another accident like the Churihatta tragedy can recur there at any time, causing biohazards. The government says that these risky chemical businesses will be relocated soon. A modern chemical industrial park will be set up at Sirajdhikhan in Munshiganj.  The project will be implemented within three years at a cost of Tk 1,615 crore. In addition, more than 100 chemical godowns will be removed in Tongi and Shyampur this year.

Sayyid Atiqullah, a trader at the Nurjahan Market near New Market, said they were worried about their security. There are very few fire extinguishers and many people do not even know how to use them. “The roads of the market are too narrow to accommodate so many customers. If any fire breaks out in this market, which has no alternative exits and is highly congested, a disaster would happen,” he added. If you walk around the mall and you will see the neighbourhood cluttered with electric wires, transformers, generators, and power substations.

BUET teacher Prof. Mehedi Ahmed Ansary said, “Almost all the buildings in the capital have been constructed by flouting the National Building Code and the Fire Act. Mere trials and drills can’t resolve anything. An evacuation system must be developed for these buildings. A plan has to be prepared in collaboration with civil engineers and the fire and safety department.”

Claiming that public awareness has increased, FSCD Deputy Director Debashis Bardhan said, “Fire safety is being considered during the construction of new buildings. But it’s difficult to install fire-management systems in old buildings. We’re strengthening our awareness campaign for the shopping malls in the city.” Most leaders of the Market Shop Owners’ Association leaders were reluctant to comment on the issue.

Kashem Mia, president of the New Market Shop Owners’ Association, claimed they had a fire management system in place. He said the market owned a deep tube-well and 100 fire extinguishers. A trader of Bangabazar Market, who chose to remain anonymous, said, “Ensuring fire safety requires a lot of money, which is why building owners or associations are often reluctant to invest in this area.”

 

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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