Only two days ago, this paper ran an editorial on how chemical warehouses continue to operate in old Dhaka. By the government's own estimate in 2017, there were some 360 factories and stores of chemicals in the area, in blatant disregard for human life! The fire that engulfed Chawkbazar on the night of February 20 has already claimed 70 lives and scores have been wounded. Reportedly, the source of the fire was a chemical warehouse. The incident brings back horrific memories for old Dhaka residents who had to live through a tragedy that occurred in 2010 in Nimtoli and there the fire had started from a stove in a building that stored combustible chemicals on the ground floor. In the aftermath of the Nimtoli fiasco that claimed some 123 lives, we were assured that steps would be taken to remove flammable chemical storage from the residential area. As we have just found out, nothing much has happened and hundreds of families have lost their loved ones because the Nimtoli fire has disappeared from collective memory.
With the narrow winding streets of Chawkbazar, it took hours for the fire brigade teams to bring the flames under control. Given the density of buildings in the old town, where many structures share common walls, it was inevitable that the fire spread alarmingly. We are told by fire brigade sources that the landlord of the building had been asked several times in the past to remove the go-downs, but our question is why chemical storage facilities were allowed in such congested spaces in the first place, especially after the Nimtoli incident? How many more people need to die before assurances turn into concrete steps by concerned authorities to totally ban the storage of flammable chemicals where people live and the prohibition is enforced? We have ample laws to govern peoples' lives but when they are not implemented, we end up with tragedies like the one in Chawkbazar.