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Sleepwalking into oblivion

  • Published at 06:00 pm February 23rd, 2019
No quick-fix solution MAHMUD HOSSAIN OPU

We can’t just keep pretending that the problem doesn’t exist

Sleepwalking, a normal physiological condition, is often considered a bad omen or a symptom of being possessed. Instead of taking preventative measures, oftentimes, the family tries hard to keep it quiet at all costs and pretends it to be non-existent.

Such has been our position when it comes to public safety and protection. Despite frequent reminders, it is as though the country has chosen to continue the avoidable sleepwalk, dragging itself in the irreversible path of abysmal oblivion. The Chawkbazar fire has been the latest of those reminders, and yet again, has exposed our unfortunate social protection, inadequate preparedness, and dilapidated infrastructure. 

A part of Chawkbazar, the century-old vibrant part of old Dhaka, was burned down into ashes and the conflagration claimed more than 70 lives. After many hours of laborious effort, our brave fire-fighters managed to take control of the situation.

Hurdles such as the availability of water and narrow roads hampered their rescue operations, exacerbating the situation. Although the real source and reason for the fire have yet to be identified, it is certain that the stacks of gas cylinders and flammable chemicals intensified the blazing fire.

The Chawkbazar incident is almost a repeat of the 2010 Nimtoli inferno, where more than 100 innocent people died. A lot of promises were made and assurances given -- unfortunately, none were kept. Forming committee after committee and on their piling recommendations have become simply rays of false hope, as the words are never translated into action.

The inaction of the relevant authorities and the lack of social pressure will take us back to that self-induced sleepwalk until another unfortunate jolt forces us to wake up … at least for a little while.

Promises have, again, been made this time to relocate chemical warehouses from residential areas, but we have already witnessed a lack of commitment from the responsible personnel. The stern order from the PM keeps the hope alive that some follow-up activities will be undertaken.

But, these reactionary steps will not prevent future accidents, nor the potential of immense devastation, because the problems are deeply rooted in our unstructured urbanization, inadequate preparedness, and lack of any sort of civil protection. 

When a problem is this multi-faceted, the solution cannot be expected to be quick and simple. It will require veritable commitment from some key government institutions such as Rajdhani Unnayan Kartipakha (RAJUK), the city corporations, the Ministry of Industry, the Department of Explosives, the Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defense, Dhaka WASA, and others.

Their efforts need to be supported and monitored by experts, civil society organizations, and the media, so that the solutions are comprehensive and long-term, not mere quick fixes. 

But, the biggest role needs to be played by individuals like you and me to keep the discussion alive. The onus is on everyone’s shoulder to ensure that we do not go back and start sleepwalking again, and assuming the problem does not exist.

If we become complacent and do not stay vigilant, real changes will never take place. It is only through continued deliberation and discussion that we can keep the momentum and take the issue forward. But, if we falter and forget, we will regret again sooner or later when another unforeseen incident of fire hits the country.

God forbid, it could be any of us or our family members who are the next victims of our collective ignorance.

Makshudul Alom Mokul Mondal is a graduate student at the Alliance Manchester Business School, University of Manchester. He is also a Global Shaper at the World Economic Forum.

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