Chemical storing goes on unabated

June 3, 2012

Nimtoli Inferno Tragedy
Chemical storing goes on unabated
Septuagenarian Chan Mia now runs a tiny tea stall and has been living hand to mouth since the devastating Nimtoli inferno in 2010 gutted his precious semi-grocery shop.
All he has in his eight-feet-by-five-feet tin-made stall are two kettles, two pairs of cups, a small jar of sugar and two cans of condensed milk. He buys the sugar and
condensed milk on credit. And there are days when he makes few sales.
Chan Mia lives with his wife in a room just behind the tea stall. His two daughters were married off during his better times, when he used to have the grocery.
The room the elderly couple live in has been parted into two levels with a false floor half way up the walls. They have been living on the upper portion, with the
lower half being rented out.
“I never thought that our last days would be like this,” said Chan Mia, making no effort to hide his deep sigh.
On this day two years ago, the devastating Nimtoli fire claimed at least 123 lives, mostly of women and children, and left more than 200 others injured.
According to fire fighters, the fire started from a stove in a building that housed a combustible chemical depot on the ground floor. When the fire came in contact
with the chemicals it engulfed eight residential buildings and some 20 shops in a few minutes.
Although government and non-government organisations came up with aid for the fire victims, Chan Mia did not receive any because the inferno had not killed any of his
family members, he said.
“Nobody came [to our help]…nobody.” One could not be sure whether Chan Mia was complaining about the help providers or his fate.
The families that lost their members to the devastating fire got Tk 1 lakh each from the district administration. Non-government organisations also gave some money to
the fire victims.
Like Chan Mia, many are yet to get their former lives back. Besides trauma, some injured in the fire are yet to recover physically.
Samanta Lal Sen, project director of Burn And Plastic Surgery Unit of Dhaka Medical College Hospital, said the hospital authorities had counselled 15-20 people so that
they could recover mentally.
Mamun Mia, who lost his seven-year-old son in the fire, is still reeling from the loss and suffering from pain in his ailing right hand.
“I cannot work for long due to this pain,” said Mamun, who received treatment at the DMCH burn unit for 33 days.
“I could not see my son’s body. That is why I have put up my son’s photograph in my shop and hoisted a black flag in his remembrance,” said the father.
Hasina Akhter Lucky, widow of Abdur Rahim, who died in the fire, had to leave Dhaka as her husband was the only breadwinner of the family. She is now living in Savar,
on the outskirts of the capital, with her father, said her relatives.
Two buildings in Nimtoli are still abandoned.
Survivors, locals and different civil society organisations alleged that the government and non-government organisations had failed to keep their promises to
rehabilitate the victims.
Hundreds of chemical warehouses are still housed in the old part of Dhaka, leaving residents of the locality vulnerable to fire accidents.
After the Nimtoli inferno, the government had taken an initiative to remove all the chemical storehouses and factories from residential areas and conducted mobile
court drives. But the drives stopped after a few days due to various problems.
Following repeated requests from businessmen, the government halted the operations of the mobile court for two months and directed the owners to shift their warehouses
and factories from residential areas by September 30, 2010.
After the deadline passed, the mobile court conducted several drives in the area but the scene hardly changed.
On a spot visit, The Daily Star talked with some 25 to 30 residents and traders of Old Dhaka and found many chemical warehouses at Nawab Katra, Mahuttuli, Bangshal,
Siddique Bazar, Sat Rowza, Babu Bazar, and Armanitola.
After the Nimtoli fire, several more fire accidents occurred in Old Dhaka, claiming a considerable number of lives.
According to Bangladesh Environment Conservation Rules 1997, no industry can operate in and around a residential area using hazardous chemicals or goods; and the
factory owners must have environmental clearance certificates before they can use the materials.
A resident of Nawab Katara, who is also an employee of Dhaka Medical College, told The Daily Star, “We are living in panic, as the existing chemical storehouses may
cause incidents like Nimtoli again.”
Some families have already left the area fearing further accidents, he said.
Another resident of the area said many house owners had rented out their facilities to warehouses secretly to make more money and avoid people’s wrath.
Mohammad Al Amin, executive magistrate of Dhaka district administration, who conducted drives after the Nimtoli fire, told The Daily Star that the mobile court had
found one chemical storehouse to every 10 residences in 2010.
Mohammad Faruk, president of Bangladesh Chemical and Perfumery Merchants’ Association claimed that the organisation had already shifted the highly inflammable chemical
storehouses from the area after the Nimtoli inferno.
Faruk, however, admitted that there were still some storehouses of inflammable chemicals in the area.
He said in September last year, the government pledged to allot some 60 bighas of land in Sonakandi, Keraniganj, on the outskirts of the capital, for chemical
warehouses but the decision was still to be finalised.
“As soon as the government provides the land we will shift the rest of the chemical warehouses [from Old Dhaka],” said Faruk, adding that the volume of land proposed
was not sufficient.
Abdul Jalil, a businessman dealing in chemical substances, told The Daily Star that people of his vocation were very much willing to shift their storehouses from the
area but they could not manage any place outside the area.
“I am waiting for the government’s decision [for allotment of land outside the residential area],” said Jalil.
Jalil, also a member of Bangladesh Chemical and Perfumery Merchants’ Association, said there were 600 members in the organisation but a lot more people were engaged in
chemical storing in the city.
Meanwhile, several environmentalist and civil society organisations have demanded that all storehouses of chemicals and inflammable substances be removed from
residential areas immediately.
Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA) and Adi Dhakabasi Forum yesterday organised a citizens’ rally before the Jatiya Press Club to press home the demand.
Addressing the programme, eminent columnist Syed Abul Moksud warned the government of a movement if it did not keep its promise to shift chemical warehouses far from
residential areas.
Their other demands include strong monitoring to ensure that chemical businessmen follow the environment law, closure of unauthorised warehouses, shifting chemical
warehouses and providing security to them.
On Thursday, Citizen Rights Movement, a citizens’ platform, organised a rally at the Nimtoli fire spot pressing the same demand.
Dr. Samanta Lal Sen of the DMCH, told The Daily Star that the Bangladesh Society for Burn Injury and Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association would
bring out a procession at the Central Shaheed Minar on Sunday to make people aware of fire accidents.

-With The Daily Star input

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