Death Traps: Tales of a Mega Community

Fire is an ever present death threat for the entire community of Dhaka city. From homes and workplaces to shopping malls and public spaces, a lack of building codes and fire protection have created a situation where residents are living in a continual death trap. And due to lack of training and proper rescue equipment for the fire service authority, fire accidents are responsible for the destruction of assets and homes as well as lives. The widespread lack of equipment and protection means fire deaths affect nearly everyone, from working class to middle class, and even the elites.
But for poor people living in slums of Dhaka city, fire creates even more havoc, among some of the capital’s most vulnerable people. Unlike their middle class neighbours, slum dwellers have no bank accounts where a lifetime’s savings are kept away or safety lockers for emergency survival after a short circuit or burning stove catches alight. As slum dweller Morjina Begum said: “I had 3,000 taka (about 44 USD) to spend at my daughter’s wedding, but after the fire all got burnt and I could not recover it.” With little or no support after fire accidents, slum dwellers live under the open skies and live on hand to mouth.

Likewise, workers in the textiles industries also suffer disproportionately due to fire risks caused by inadequate safety procedures or facilities. Just recently, 21 workers were killed following a fire at the Garib and Garib sweater factory, in the southern district of Gazipur. A post fire inspection of 4,500 of the country’s garment factories recently found 60 percent had inadequate firefighting equipment. Many factories have no battery-powered emergency lighting. As a result, the building is plunged into darkness when fire occurs, intensifying the chaos and panic of those trapped inside. ‘After completion of our night-duty the factory authorities usually lock all the doors, so we couldn’t flee even after hearing the repeated fire alarm,’ said Hanufa Banu, a worker of the sewing section. Death is continually around the corner in this industry.
I have been documenting the important issue of fire risks faced by residents of Dhaka for the last couple of years. Through my work, I have seen civilians risking their lives to save others in rescue operations. Firefighters with lack of training and proper rescue equipment are also part of the rescue operation, bringing injured and panicked victims of fire to safety. I believe my photo essay will raise awareness, and hope that it will act as a catalyst for the authorities to take prompt action to save the life and property of an entire community. I hope it will help the policy makers and administrations to consider how Dhaka city has become the ‘second worst’ livable city in the world. I want to show how reversing the trend of inefficiency and neglect by the authorities can help bring an end to the needless loss of many lives in the peaceful, beautiful city of Dhaka.