April 15, 2024, 2:18 pm

Rafikul Islam and Ariful Islam

2024-03-03 13:36:06 BdST

Fires’ economic toll grows amid safety neglect

The fire that broke out at Green Cozy Cottage on Bailey Road on Thursday night damaged assets worth at least Tk200 crore, according to an estimation.

However, the value of the people who lost their lives or got injured in the preventable disaster cannot be calculated by any scale.

Violation of different rules and regulations during building construction, lack of proper inspection by the authorities concerned, and lack of awareness among people repeatedly cause the fires in the country, said experts.

Moreover, there is no accurate data regarding the economic losses caused by the frequent fires that broke out in different places across the country, said people involved in trade bodies.

Blazes caused a loss of Tk368 crore per year on an average in the last four years, according to the Department of Fire Service and Civil Defence.

Fires damaged properties worth Tk793 crore in 2023 alone.

At least 573 people were killed and 1,650 injured in around 94,400 fire incidents across the country from 2020 to 2023.
Of those incidents, 27,624 occurred in 2023, 24,102 in 2022, 21,601 in 2021 and 21,073 in 2020.

Of the deaths caused by fire, 102 were in 2023, 98 in 2022, 219 in 2021 and 154 in 2020.

At least 281 people were wounded in 2023, 407 in 2022, 576 in 2021 and 386 in 2020 in fires in different places.

The fire that engulfed Bangabazar Shopping Complex in Dhaka last April resulted in an estimated financial loss of Tk303.05 crore, as per the probe report released by the Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC).

The investigation revealed that the fire caused a loss of Tk288.35 crore due to the destruction of goods stored in 3,845 shops across seven markets within the complex. Infrastructural damage, including that of Tk1 crore losses incurred by the Anexco Tower, accounted for a further loss of Tk14.70 crore.

Ensuring implementation of laws essential for safety Bangladesh Institute of Planners (BIP) President Dr Adil Mohammed Khan said the fire incidents are rising due to violation of various rules and regulations, and lack of proper monitoring by authorities concerned.

“The risk of fire has increased in the urban areas of Bangladesh in recent years, resulting in irreparable loss of lives and properties. It is possible to avoid such incidents by properly planning the urban areas, constructing risk-free and safe buildings, managing development effectively, monitoring, and ensuring the accountability of service providers,” he added.

Experts said fires are clearly caused by violation of Dhaka Metropolitan Building Regulations 2008, Bangladesh National Building Code 2020, Local Government (City Corporation) Act 2009, Fire Prevention and Extinguishing Act 2003, Dhaka Detailed Zoning Plan 2016-35, Gas Cylinder Regulations 1991, and rules related to urban planning, building design, construction and management, and environmental laws.

Fire Service Director General Brig Gen Md Main Uddin underscored the significance of fire safety in industries and factories.

The safety measures are notable in many of the green factories in the garments sector, but they are ignored in other sectors.

He said that usually the Fire Service received 22,300 calls regarding fire incidents on an average per year, but last year it jumped to 28,703. The average number of deaths caused by fire in a year is 149.

He emphasised prevention of fires by raising awareness, conducting checks of the fire safety equipment regularly, and using quality building materials.

Md Amin Helaly, senior vice-president of Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI), said that only 12.5% of the commercial and residential buildings in Dhaka are approved by Rajuk, while the remaining 87.5% establishments are unapproved. There is negligence on part of the government in this regard.

“The authorities only serve notices to risky buildings, which is not enough. We have no proper data about economic losses in fire incidents but it is presumed to be massive. For example, over Tk200 crore was lost in the recent fire at Baily Road. And we cannot calculate the monetary value of the lives that are lost due to the fire,” he added.   

Helaly said the FBCCI has made a safety council to inspect industries. The apex trade body and Bangladesh Investment Development Authority have recently inspected 10,200 commercial buildings. Of them, 172 buildings were in Dhaka.

“We have submitted a report about the buildings’ risk factors to the government but, we have not yet seen any action in this regard. The government should strengthen supervision,” he said.

“The county’s economy is boosting, but there is no discipline. We should address this irregularity instead of blaming each other. The authorities need to take responsibility for the situation,” he also added.

Grasshopper Group Managing Director Mahmudur Rashid said high import duty on fire safety materials and equipment is a big challenge for the industries. The government should provide all the necessary support, including duty cuts and incentives, to encourage investors in importing fire safety equipment.

“This is potentially a big market. High duty increases product prices which discourage businessmen from using safety products,” he said.

Besides, an independent ministry for proper inspection is also necessary for ensuring safety measures as lack of coordination among ministries and departments hampers the progress of the system, Rashid said.

“Currently, the garment sector is doing well as they comply with the rules. All the other sectors should follow their example,” said Mahmudur Rashid, who is also vice president of Electronics Safety and Security Association of Bangladesh.

Secretary General of the Bangladesh Restaurant Owners Association (BROA) Imran Hasan stressed the importance of conducting business in compliance with all the security rules.

He expressed concern over the disregard for safety rules by some restaurant owners, highlighting the increased use of cylinder gas due to the government’s failure to supply gas through the pipelines.

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