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Living above the threat of bombs

Remembering the black day when one of the worst fires in country’s history broke out in a residential building.

A typically crowded Dhaka street A typically crowded Dhaka street
  • Rock Ronald Rozario, Dhaka
  • Bangladesh
  • June 3, 2011
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Many people in the Nimtoli area of old Dhaka will remember June 3 as a black day. That's when in 2010 one of the worst fires in country’s history broke out in a residential building.

Later the fire spread to at least 14 adjacent residential buildings and roadside shops.

The devastating blaze left 123 people, mostly women and children, dead and more than 200 badly injured. It also gutted properties worth thousands of dollars.

Aftermath investigations found the fire originated from a chemical factory just below the building that blew up. In the wake of fire Government directed all chemical factories to move from the city and relocate into suburbs within couple of months. The order was largely ignored.

None of the thousands of illegal chemical factories, many trading sensitive and explosive chemicals, moved either. There are chemical warehouses and dumping grounds all over the area. Reports say some facilities stock materials of which one drum has the power of a thousand bombs.

It’s really pitiful to see about three million people in old Dhaka living day-to-day with open ‘death-threats’. The summer, the hottest time of the year, might cause more tragedies like that of Nimtoli.

Fire tragedies are nothing new, neither in the country nor particularly in the capital city. The country’s garment factories, the biggest foreign exchange earning sector often catch fire and workers get killed. In old Dhaka fires are more frequent.

According to the fire service and the Civil Defense department about 200 fires broke out in the last decade in the area, killing nearly a thousand people and gutted properties worth millions.

All these mishaps can be attributed to a lack of a proper safety net, for residents and workers, and most of all serious negligence from concerned authorities.

There are several thousand Catholic and Protestant Christians in old Dhaka. Mostly, both their residences and Church buildings are in safe zones, unlike many non-Christians. However, they do often worry while living in such widely congested areas.

Holy Cross Father Edmond Cruze, parish priest of Holy Cross Church in Luxmibazar in Old Dhaka, said: “This area is risky because most buildings are very old; a small earthquake will cause much loss. We tell our people not to reside near any chemical factory. From time to time we organize awareness programs for parishioners.”

The priest who takes care of 1,500 Catholics in the parish added that he offered a special Mass for eternal peace of the Nimtoli fire victims on the first anniversary of the tragedy.

He lamented that those harmful factories had not yet moved even after government directions. “Government needs to be strict to fulfill the commitment to the people,” he says.

Father Cruze added that he often fears for the fate of Christians who work in risky chemical and garment factories.

The elderly priest is right but it’s not an easy task. Why risk life by living over a bomb? Because for many people, mostly the poor, life puts before them no alternative and thus the haunting nightmare never ends.

Related reports
Fire deaths highlight garment workers’ risks
Christians pray for Dhaka blaze victims
Day of prayers to follow deadly Dhaka blaze

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