Millions at fire, earthquake risks | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, April 06, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 02:03 AM, April 06, 2019

Millions at fire, earthquake risks

Warn experts

Violation of building code and defiance of safety rules during construction of high-rises have exposed around 18 million people in and around the capital to fire and earthquake risks, according to experts.

Dhaka, one of the most densely-populated cities in the world, has witnessed a number of devastating fires in recent months and years.

Urban experts say the recent fire incidents at Chawkbazar, Banani's FR Tower and Gulshan DNCC kitchen market show how the lack of safety measures is putting people's lives at risk.

Talking to the news agency, noted construction and earthquake expert Prof Jamilur Reza Choudhury, urban expert Prof Nazrul Islam, architect and urban planner Iqbal Habib and Prof Mehedi Ahmed Ansari of Buet's Civil Engineering department attributed the rise in fire incidents to unplanned urbanisation, violation of building code, carelessness, increased use of gas cylinders and lack of supervision by authorities concerned.

They suggested taking immediate initiatives to ensure safety compliance of city buildings.

Seventy people were killed in the Old Dhaka fire. The blaze at FR Tower claimed lives of 26 people.

Government officials said the tower was constructed flouting the building code and it had unusable firefighting equipment.

“It's not surprising,” said Prof Mehedi Ahmed Ansari. “Most high-rises in Dhaka lack necessary fire safety measures.”

Prof Nazrul Islam said electric short-circuit, gas and other burners, cigarettes, gas cylinders, technological devices, inflammable objects and chemicals usually trigger fire.

It is still unclear what sparked the FR Tower fire.



Prof Jamilur Reza Choudhury said a large number of buildings in Dhaka flouted the building code and Building Construction Rule 1996 during construction.

“With so many vulnerable buildings, I fear that between 1,00,000 and 1,50,000 people may be killed if a strong earthquake hits Dhaka,” he said. The country still could not achieve much-needed progress in earthquake preparedness, he added.

Iqbal Habib said according to Rajuk, 80 percent of the capital's buildings lack proper approval. “Among the rest, 60 percent were constructed breaching designs and flouting rules,” he said.

Habib said most buildings have not been constructed and designed to withstand earthquakes.

Prof Ansari recalled that their 2011 survey on 53 high-rises in the city showed that 90 percent of them lacked adequate fire safety measures.

Md Abdur Rahman, chairman of Dhaka's development authority, said they will conduct a drive soon to identify faulty high-rises.



The experts urged the government to strengthen its agencies concerned and form a committee that will specifically work to ensure fire safety.

Government agencies, including Rajuk, need to be strengthened to stop construction of risky buildings as well as retrofit or remove such buildings, said Prof Choudhury, vice-chancellor of University of Asia Pacific.

He pointed out that pressure from foreign buyers after the Rana Plaza tragedy led to safety improvement at about 800 buildings that house factories.

“We need a body like Accord to ensure safety,” said architect Iqbal Habib.

Prof Ansari said the government should assign a specific body to work for ensuring fire-safety in all high-rises. “More importantly, the building code, which clearly mentions how to construct a safe high-rise, should be followed strictly.”

In case of low-rises, he recommended keeping fire extinguishers on every floor and train people how to use those. “We see many owners keep main gates and rooftop doors of their buildings locked. In such cases, owners must provide each tenant with keys.” 

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