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No fire safety

September 13, 2017

TWO recent events have illustrated the need for the strict enforcement of fire safety codes in this country. Lack of enforcement of such regulations puts lives at risk. On Sunday, the Awami Markaz building in Islamabad was gutted. As reported, it turned out that the high-rise was without a Capital Development Authority completion certificate, the document that certifies compliance with the requisite fire and safety codes. Meanwhile, on Monday, activists and families of Karachi’s Baldia factory victims observed the fifth anniversary of the blaze, considered the worst industrial accident in the country’s history. Around 260 people perished in the fire. While it is suspected that the tragedy was the result of a deliberate act of arson (even after five years the case is still in the pre-trial stage), the inferno nevertheless illustrated in a painful fashion how large industrial units flout fire and safety regulations. As speakers at a memorial pointed out, there were reportedly no emergency exits in the factory while the structure also lacked fire alarms.

Where the Islamabad blaze is concerned, several structures in the federal capital, including malls, office buildings and hotels, also lack CDA completion certificates, as a government official told this paper. This situation is untenable. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people often congregate inside such buildings. The fact that such structures lack the requisite certificates is unacceptable and the CDA must ensure that all buildings in the capital are adhering to the relevant safety codes. Also, the lesson from the Baldia tragedy must not be lost on us; how many more structures like Ali Enterprises, as the factory was called, exist in Karachi and the nation’s other cities? And has the state, specifically the civic bodies and provincial governments, considered surveying large structures, especially high-rises, to confirm whether they are following safety regulations? Considering the large number of multistorey structures sprouting up across the country, specifically in Karachi, has the state made an effort to ensure that these structures have proper fire escapes and firefighting systems in place? The answers to these questions would not inspire confidence. In fact, the Sindh Building Control Authority recently announced a ban on high-rises after the provincial high court called for such measures. It is a fact that the city lacks the equipment to fight blazes beyond a certain number of floors. Yet we continue to ignore fire safety regulations at our own peril.

Published in Dawn, September 13th, 2017