It will take years for the people of Chawkbazar in Old Dhaka to forget the fateful night that an inferno ravaged through the lanes of Churihatta claiming 70 lives. Nine years ago a fire outbreak of a similar magnitude burnt 123 people alive in Nimtoli. Unfortunately, it seems as though the businessmen and residents of that area haven’t learnt a lesson after all. The local businessmen believe the fire started due to a gas cylinder bursting and in their eyes, the task force entitled to remove the chemical warehouses located in the residential buildings of Old Dhaka would not fix the issue. Using this justification, they have prevented the relocation ordered by the government time and again.
The problem of Chawkbazar’s business set-up is not only infrastructural. We also need to put a microscope to the traditions and culture they are holding on to so dearly. Many of these people have inherited this business from their forefathers and do not know properly about the dangers of such flammable products. Which is why, when the experts claimed that the fire incident was fueled by the presence of chemical warehouses, they were in absolute denial. For many of them, chemical sounding substances like nitric and sulphuric acid are indeed chemicals but products needed to make perfumes and shampoo are not. This myth was thoroughly busted when bottles of such products were found in the debris of the fire.
Having said that, playing the blame game will not help anyone but rather put more lives at risk. What we need at this moment is to run a mass awareness program about the dangers of such flammable goods produced and stored in the warehouses situated in various pockets of Old Dhaka. We have to educate those businessmen about the issues of fire safety and provide them with proper training. Urban designers must also weigh in to suggest how to minimize the risks, in case another outbreak takes place. Mass relocation of business will not only hurt their traditional values but will also hamper the entire supply chain which has cemented itself in that area for many decades. Our heart goes out to those who have lost their beloved ones and to those who have lost their business. Nevertheless, if we fail to take actions, make no mistake, we will face more devastating incidents costing more valuable lives.