Friday, March 31, 2023

Fire at Bangladesh’s latest depot raises safety concerns

DHAKA, Bangladesh ( Associated Press) — Officials in Bangladesh were still struggling to determine the cause of Monday’s massive fire that killed at least 49 people, including nine firefighters, and injured more than 100, officials and local officials said. Media reported, as raised by experts. Concern over the safety standard in the industrial sector of the country.

Firefighting efforts at BM Inland Container Depot, a Dutch-Bangladesh joint venture, continued overnight when a container filled with chemicals caught fire around midnight on Saturday following an explosion.

Officials said casualties rose over the weekend as many workers and firefighters were unaware of chemical storage at the depot, and they moved closer to explosive containers after the initial fire. A few hundred workers and dozens of firefighters were trying to put out the blaze when the first explosion occurred.

The depot is located near the country’s main Chittagong port, about 210 kilometers (130 mi) southeast of the capital, Dhaka, and is one of 19 such depots in the region.

The latest fires have raised concerns about whether such facilities in Bangladesh, a growing economy in South Asia, are maintaining safety standards.

Khairul Alam Sujan, vice-president of Bangladesh Freight Forwarders Association, said on Sunday that containers containing hazardous chemicals were filled with garment products ready for export.

It is important to keep a distance from containers containing any hazardous chemicals, he added.

Firefighters said more than a dozen containers contained hydrogen peroxide, which helped spread the fire after the blaze, but it was unclear what caused the initial blaze.

The Bangladeshi media was critical of the institutional capacity in ensuring security at such a facility.

“The fire … is the latest in an ever-increasing list of tragedies that have once again brought Bangladesh’s horrific industrial safety record into the limelight,” the Daily Star said. The newspaper said in an editorial on Monday.

“Poor infrastructure and institutional preparedness for industrial safety … make incidents of such fires almost inevitable,” the Daily Star said.

The International Labor Organization said in a 2020 report that industrial security in Bangladesh is at a very early stage.

“A comprehensive framework covering all issues related to safety in various sectors, economic activities and commercial establishments – in the context of emergencies like COVID-19 – needs to be developed,” it said.

The ILO said Bangladesh needs a “credible and accountable industrial security governance structure”.

On Monday morning, authorities started collecting DNA samples from the family members of those who died in the fire as many of the bodies could not be identified.

Explosive experts from the Bangladesh Army were called in to assist the firefighters. Officials and local media reports said the explosions broke windows of nearby buildings and were felt up to 4 kilometers (2 mi) away.

According to Ektor TV station, the death toll stood at 49 on Monday. But the civil surgeon of the area said that the number could still rise as the fire continued for the second night.

More than a dozen victims have been airlifted to a special hospital in the capital, Dhaka. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed grief over the accident and ordered adequate arrangements for medical treatment of the injured.

Bangladesh has a history of industrial disasters, including fires in factories with workers trapped inside. Monitoring groups have blamed corruption and lax enforcement.

Safety conditions have improved significantly after major reforms in the country’s vast apparel industry, which employs nearly 4 million people, but experts say accidents can still happen if similar changes are not made in other sectors.

In 2012, around 117 workers died after being trapped behind a closed exhaust at a garment factory in Dhaka.

The country’s worst industrial disaster occurred the following year, when the Rana Plaza garment factory outside Dhaka collapsed, killing more than 1,100 people.

In 2019, a fire broke out in a 400-year-old area full of apartments, shops and warehouses in the oldest part of Dhaka, killing at least 67 people. At least 123 people were killed in another fire in 2010 at a house illegally storing chemicals in old Dhaka.

In 2021, a fire at a food and beverage factory outside Dhaka killed at least 52 people, many of whom were illegally trapped inside closed doors.

Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Desk
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