Mon | Feb 17, 2020

Deadly fire shows lapses in development

Published:Friday | February 22, 2019 | 12:11 AM
Flames rise from a fire in a densely packed shopping area in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. A devastating fire raced through at least five buildings in an old part of Bangladesh’s capital and killed scores of people. (AP Photo/Zabed Hasnain Chowdhury)


A fire in Bangladesh that killed at least 81 people in the oldest part of the capital shows the lapses in public safety that continue to plague the South Asian country despite its rapid economic growth.

While the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina touts the garment factories and gleaming office towers in Dhaka’s north side as signs of progress, illegal shops and overcrowding in Chawkbazar, one of the city’s many warren-like southern districts, impeded firefighters’ ability to put out Wednesday night’s blaze, illustrating the country’s uneven development.

The government has zoning laws and regulations on the books but has met public resistance when it tried to enforce them, Bangladesh planning experts said yesterday.

Business owners in old Dhaka routinely bribe government employees responsible for building oversight, they said.

After a warehouse storing flammable material caught fire in 2010 in Nimtoli, a district near Chawkbazar, killing at least 123 people, authorities promised to bring the area into compliance with building codes and evict chemical warehouses from buildings where people lived.

Industrial facilities can’t legally exist in areas that are zoned residential, said Mohammed Manjur Morshed, an assistant professor of urban planning at Khulna University of Engineering and Technology.

“This type of thing happens, there’s a big initiative to move everything out, and then, after some time, people forget about it and the government is really not interested anymore. It’s like that,” Morshed said.

“Corruption buys building permits, and then there’s very little oversight to see whether anyone is building according to the submitted plan,” he said.