Mahmudur Rahman writes for DOT
For as long as memory serves old Dhaka has been a virtual reservoir of chemical storage. From the innocuous to the more dangerous types, go downs and even residences have gradually grown to become storage depots with authorities turning a blind eye for the sake of business. But three devastating incidents have brought three different perspectives to the trade. The traders don’t know what are the most dangerous of the thirty-two listed chemicals and what safety measures to install, the Mayor wants to clean it up but doesn’t know where to relocate them, somewhat akin to roadside hawkers and the chemical safety inspectors are still in an agreeable state of siesta.
Chemicals aren’t the only hazardous ingredients that are imported into the country but safety backward linkage has been sadly lacking. Once again it has been a lack of planning for storage of hazardous material and an abject failure of inspection teams to run routine checks. Town planners’ suggestions are more often not listened too but it is doubtful whether these plans have areas demarcated for hazardous material storage. It doesn’t help that importers of such chemicals have proper licenses that would have had a must as proper storage.
With each passing day encroachment, effluent discharge and material storage situations go from bad to worse. The reactive approach is causing more human casualties than acceptable and mere financial compensation is just not enough. A proposal for a Tk 10,000 crore allocation to pull down rickety storage is being proposed to parliament and that is one answer. The more relevant question is why and how residential complexes are being let out for chemical storage again in the presence of building inspectors and taxation officials. The Dhaka City Mayor has also not completed his promise of cutting off utility services for residences housing chemical storage and his officials’ haven’t been able to explain how such a matter came to pass. Even after the devastation of a few years ago, chemical storage in old Dhaka remains unabated and no one is being held accountability. It is this lack of responsibility that emboldens the bonhommie between businesses and officials.
According to reports quoting a Bangladesh Paribesh Andolon some 15000 residences house chemicals in old Dhaka of which only 2500 have licenses to operate as such. How they too got those licenses is a question that needs answers. Some of these are located in small alleys where firemen would find access difficult if not impossible. Unpopular decisions need to be taken early on in governance. That time is now.
The writer is author, columnist and communication specialist.