Fire safety in a precarious state
Fire safety in Dhaka's market buildings is in a very precarious condition, which has increased vulnerabilities for people and properties associated with these markets. The recent fire incidents in Bangabazar and Dhaka New Super Market are testimonies of these harsh realities prevailing in the capital, said Dr Adil Mohammed Khan, executive director of Institute for Planning and Development (IPD), during an interview with The Daily Star yesterday.
Adil, a professor of the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at Jahangirnagar University, said the Bangabazar fire incident also portrays that despite the immense dedication of firefighters, the fire services department is still lagging in terms of capacities, which requires a massive improvement.
"Astonishingly, many markets owned and operated by both the city corporations in Dhaka are at risk of catching fire as well. Fire safety scenarios in the markets of Dhaka have not changed that much," said Adil.
"After the Bangabazar Fire incident, fire service reiterated after a short visit that most of the markets in the capital are quite unsafe and at risk of catching fire. They are devoid of appropriate fire safety measures as stipulated in fire service law or building codes and construction rules and regulations. There are risks in the gas, power and water supply lines of these markets as well," he added.
According to the building and fire safety rules, markets should have fire extinguishers, emergency stairs and elevators, fire sprinklers, and smoke detectors for ensuring fire safety, said Adil.
The fire service, city corporations or the building authorities only notify the market authorities to ensure fire safety. Other than that, no stringent measures have been taken in the last few years to protect these buildings from fire. Besides, the market authorities cannot avoid their responsibilities when it comes to negligence regarding fire safety.
"Fire drills should be made regular for markets. However, they take place rarely in Dhaka's market buildings."
"Safety audits for electric, gas and sewerage lines in the market should be conducted regularly. Walkway passages or emergency evacuation routes in the markets should be kept free all the time," added Adil.
Bangladesh National Building Code, which has important provisions regarding fire safety, is not being implemented in the absence of the Bangladesh Building Authority, as mentioned in the BNBC enacted in 2020.
"The fire service department, city corporations or the building authorities only notify the market authorities to ensure fire safety. Other than that, no stringent measures have been taken in the last few years to protect these buildings from fire," he said.
"The market authorities cannot avoid their responsibilities when it comes to negligence regarding fire safety. The Fire Prevention and Fighting Act, 2003, has enabled the fire service department to evacuate or close risky market buildings, which should be implemented if deemed necessary for any particular markets."
"Ensuring fire safety in markets requires urgency, eagerness, effort, financial investment and regular monitoring. Market owners and the relevant authorities like the fire service, city corporations and Rajuk should work together to save valuable lives and properties from fire incidents of massive scales," added Adil.