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Fire Hazard Management of Dhaka City: Addressing Issues Relating to Institutional Capacity and Public Perception
Md. Monowarul Islam* Neelopal Adri** Abstract
Dhaka City has been experiencing high rate of urbanization since the last few decades. Presently, more than 11 million people are living in Dhaka City. The development trend of Dhaka is deliberately shifting vertical direction to cope with the extensive population pressure. Now­a­days, high rise buildings are being constructed in every parts of the city but in most cases the dwellings are being constructed without maintaining the planning rules and regulations. Fire hazard vulnerability of Dhaka City dwellers has been increased due to reckless building construction and non­conformation of Fire Protection Act, 2003. Dhaka City has been experiencing many fire accidents at present and in most cases lack of proper precautionary measures along with the institutional inefficiency, insufficient equipment support and lack of public awareness are causing this situation more complex. Existing planning rules and laws are also insufficient to the present context of Dhaka City. As most of the dwellers do not know how to use the fire fighting equipments, in most cases all the precautionary measures for combating fire generally go into vein. Therefore, institutional reform, strengthening of capacity at individual and institutional level are needed in order to reduce fire hazard risks of Dhaka City. This research tries to explore the existing capacity of Fire Service and Civil Defense Authority in Dhaka City and to assess people’s preparedness in case of combating fire accident.

Introduction From the inception of human civilization, the role of fire is very significant and still in the modernized living its importance has not been reduced. As a source of energy, fire has various uses in our everyday living. Fire, if not manageable, can be disastrous for human settlements. Urban settlements of the world are more vulnerable to fire hazard due to the involvement of huge population in economic activities, industrial and other activities. Urban fire incidence is alarmingly increasing all over Bangladesh particularly in larger urban centers. Due to rapid unplanned urbanization and the absence of adequate safety measures in the city system, Dhaka City is seriously facing this hazard at present. At present, Dhaka is serving the role of a metropolis with over 11.3 million people and also serving the role of the national capital for 149 millions of Bangladeshis (BBS, 2001). The national urban population share of Dhaka city was 25% in 1981, 31% in 1991 and 34% in 2001 respectively. Among the urban centres of Bangladesh, Dhaka’s dominance is not only in terms of population, but also in terms of economy, trade, commerce, and administrative facilities. In 1991, among the thirty­four mega cities of the world having a population of more than five million, Dhaka ranked twenty­fifth while in 2000 it ranked eleventh and it is predicted to be the world’s fourth largest city by the year 2015 with an estimated population of 21.1 million (GoB, 2002). Along with the rapid urbanization, the civic facilities of Dhaka city is yet not developed in a proportionate manner. As a result, the citizens usually have to face varieties of frequent disorders in their everyday living of Dhaka City. Fire hazard is one of such phenomena which is at present causing huge economic loss as well as tragedy of human
* *

Planning/ Research Officer, Bangladesh Institute of Planners (BIP). E­mail: monowarurp@gmail.com * Research Associate, Centre for Global Change (CGC), Dhaka, Bangladesh. E­mail: neelopal.urp@gmail.com

Jahangirnagar Planning Review, Vol. 6, June 2008

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death in a frequent manner. The reported fire incidences from 2004 to 2006 in Bangladesh were 7140, 7135 and 9642 respectively; whereas within Dhaka City the incidences were respectively 803, 984 and 1161 in each year. In 2006, country’s 12% fire accidents occurred in Dhaka city which were 13.79% and 11.2 % in the years of 2005 and 2004 respectively (BFSCDA, 2007). Apart from human death and injury, the damage of property in Dhaka city was estimated to be more than Tk. 6 crore on an average due to fire accidents in every year (Sayeeduzzaman, 1990). However, this figure has been increased manyfold at present. According to the official record of BFSCDA, the monetary loss due to fire accidents within Dhaka City was Tk. 48 crore in 2007 which was Tk. 80 crore in 2006 and Tk. 52 crore in 2005. The annual monetary loss due to fire accidents is very high in Dhaka City compared with the other urban centers in Bangladesh as the city is involved in the highest concentration of economic activities. The fire safety issue in the large urban areas, like Dhaka is not highly emphasized from the city planning perspective in Bangladesh. In most cases, immediately after any large scale fire destruction, the issue of urban safety is highly discussed by local newspapers but with the progress of time, the issue ultimately fades away from people’s memory. As a result, the government shows an attitude of reluctance in taking further steps for strengthening fire­fighting scenario. At present, the authority of this metropolitan city has no contingency plan and sufficient preparation to avoid large­scale fire disorders. Moreover, the city authority has no proper equipment and adequate trained manpower to combat fire hazards particularly in high rise buildings. Unfortunately, very few researches have been conducted addressing the issue of urban fire safety in Bangladesh. It may be debatable whether the prevention or mitigation of fire is more feasible for Dhaka City, but, there is no doubt that issue should be considered in the planning of Dhaka City. Objectives and Scope of the Study The present study tries to explore the fire hazard vulnerability of Dhaka City. The study also focuses on fire hazard management scenario of Dhaka City from the point of institutional capacity of Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defense (BFSCD) and public perception of the city dwellers. Furthermore, the study analyzes the legal aspects regarding fire safety in Bangladesh. However, the research work has covered only the fire hazard vulnerability of the high rise buildings (above six storeys) of Dhaka City. Fire fighting capacity at institutional and individual levels was also assessed in this study. Methodology of the Study In the primary stage of this study, secondary data has been collected from the relevant publications, newspapers and Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defense Authority’s (BFSCDA) official records. Necessary books and relevant laws were consulted to have a clear concept regarding fire hazard management scenario of Bangladesh. This stage of study helped to conceptualize the existing institutional capacity of fire hazard management in terms of equipments and manpower. Furthermore, a time series analysis of the collected data helped to understand the significance of the issue for Dhaka City. An in­depth field survey was carried out in February 2008 to examine the enforcement of the existing legal provisions and planning by­laws for fire safety particularly for the high­rise buildings of Dhaka City. Moreover, the awareness of people regarding the fire safety was also addressed in the questionnaire while doing survey. Almost 25 residential

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