Cost of negligence

Published December 8, 2023

ONCE again, Karachi has witnessed a tragic fire, this time engulfing a six-storey commercial-cum-residential building on Shahrah-i-Pakistan. At least four people have died and several have been injured, besides an untold amount of property lost. This incident, following closely on the heels of the RJ Mall fire, raises questions about the city’s preparedness for such emergencies. The response to this fire, while commendable in its scale, highlights systemic issues. The delay in the arrival of snorkels and the apparent lack of coordination among different emergency services is concerning. Moreover, it is distressing to hear that local residents played a more pivotal role in evacuation than the official responders. The recurring nature of these tragedies points to a deeper malaise: the lack of stringent fire safety measures. The fact that the building housed foam, cushion, and mattress shops — highly flammable materials — without apparent adequate fire safety measures is a glaring oversight. It calls into question the enforcement of building codes and safety regulations by the authorities.

The caretaker chief minister’s order for an inquiry is welcome, but it must not become another forgotten promise. The inquiry into the RJ Mall fire is still underway, with no visible outcome or changes implemented. Karachi’s citizens need more than just post-tragedy reassurances; they need proactive measures to prevent such incidents in the first place. The government’s move to initiate a fire safety audit in commercial buildings is a positive development but it needs to be a city-wide, continuous effort, ensuring all buildings comply with safety standards. It is time the city developed a more effective emergency response mechanism and enforced stringent fire safety regulations. The loss of lives in such preventable incidents is a stark reminder of the cost of negligence and inaction. Karachi’s residents deserve a safe city, and it is the duty of the authorities to ensure that safety is not just a promise, but a reality.

Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2023

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