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25 November, 2015 00:00 00 AM
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Reducing risks to live safely in Dhaka

It is not impossible to address the problems of high risks to human existence in Dhaka. There is no reason to throw up hands in despair or to think that the safety problems of Dhaka city are so great that the same defy a solution. Of course solutions to even far greater problems were recognized and acted upon over time in other cities in other countries with resolve and tenacity
Sajib Chowdhury
Reducing risks to live safely in Dhaka
A devastating fire originating from a chemical store at Nimtali in old Dhaka killed 156 persons in 2010

Looking at Dhaka city closely, one would be simply stupefied to see the frightful chaos that has now endangered the lives of millions and millions of its residents. What is required under the circumstances is not shifting focus on this or that problem as they arise but to look at all of these great living hazards for its people in totality as the outcome of  a lack of a
planned city.
Dhaka and its suburbs are considered to be holding no less than 15 million people. A big part of this population have their homes  in the old quarters of the city . The population density is also the greatest in these older parts of the city. But the old city presents a spectacle of  complete  chaos  that keeps the people here hostages to a disaster any time of the sort like a large scale fire incident . Any modern city to claim itself to be so, must be zoned properly between residential, industrial , commercial and other areas.
But rows and rows of dingy buildings are found in old Dhaka which were never planned for safety. The structures have hardly any spacious stairways for the urgent exiting of people. The maze of these buildings are served in most cases by alleys so narrow in some cases that even two rickshaws cannot pass side by side in them. In case of a fire incident, the large vehicles of the  fire service  find the  narrow lanes and by-lanes practically  impassable. As a tragic fire incident-- sometime ago-- showed, these buildings house both humans in large number as well as  quickly inflammable materials of all sorts such as plastics, chemicals, polythene, etc.
The owners and tenants live on some floors and beside them are stocks of such materials that can feed a fire and make the same hellish very fast. Make-shift factories of  all kinds abound here from polythene bag making ones to plastics industries of the cottage type. The gas lines  in these areas are often found leaking and prone to causing accidents on coming in contact with even a slight spark from somewhere.   
   But the question is : if the people of these areas have acted without wisdom or sanction, what the regulatory agencies have been doing to help them to save themselves. No amount of excuses can justify the gross apathy of successive governments in making even a start in freeing these areas from the very high risks they carry. If the governments had a plan of action over years to enforce proper zoning policies between industrial and residential areas, then surely these death traps of stores of combustible materials and industries could not coexist
with large scale residence of humans as well.
Even now, it is not impossible to think of and start executing a plan of action to gradually oblige the people of these areas to live away from them in exclusive residential areas. Similarly, the factories in them can be moved out to designated industrial areas  where the stores of inflammable goods can be kept under supervised conditions. Doing of these things over time will lead to  disappearance of these hazardous clusters of dwellings at a steady rate in the old city.
Meanwhile,  Titas Gas can of course embark on a crash programme to mend leaking lines of gas and keep them  in good conditions. No less important would be  establishment of a central control to detect any gas line related accident and  to turn off gas supply over a large area  very quickly. Such  mechanisms are available and found in use in many countries.
Thus, it is not impossible to address the problems of high risks to human existence in the city. There is no reason to throw up hands in despair or to think that the problems are so great that the same defy a solution.  Of course solutions to even far greater problems were recognized and acted upon over time in other cities in other countries with resolve and tenacity to be crowned with success.  The same is possible in Dhaka. One has to only make a start and keep going regardless of fall of government or the opposition of  interest groups. But it is regrettable that even after nearly five years of the devastating fire at Nimtali in old Dhaka that killed 156 persons, hardly activities are noted as preventive steps against recurrence of such fire incidents.

The writer is a retired civil engineer

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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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