Bangladesh cracks down on chemical warehouses after deadly Dhaka inferno

Residents gathering around the wreckage of cars that were destroyed in a fire in Dhaka, on Feb 22, 2019.
Residents gathering around the wreckage of cars that were destroyed in a fire in Dhaka, on Feb 22, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

DHAKA (AFP) - Bangladesh is cracking down on chemical warehouses in an historic Dhaka district a week after a fire killed 70 people in buildings used for deodorant and plastics storage, an official said on Sunday (March 3).

Five task forces led by military officers, police and officials have raided Old Dhaka buildings and cut off utilities to at least 50 buildings in the past three days after chemical warehouses were found in their basement and under floors.

The owners of the buildings have been ordered to relocate the flammable chemicals to safer places outside the capital as part of the initiative launched last Thursday.

"We are determined there will be no flammable chemical warehouses in any Old Dhaka residential area," Dhaka's mayor Sayeed Khokon told AFP.

He said the drive would continue until April 1.

The crackdown is in response to a massive fire which broke out on Feb 21 at Chawkbazar, a 300-year-old historic Old Dhaka district, killing at least 70 people and injuring another 50.

Fire service officials said a warehouse of deodorant and granular plastic in one of the five buildings that caught fire fuelled the inferno, which took more than 12 hours to control.


The disaster recalled a June 2010 fire in the nearby neighbourhood of Nimtoli in which 123 people were killed. Again a blaze ripped through residential buildings that doubled as chemical warehouses.

Residents said chemical storage is a lucrative business in Old Dhaka, which was founded by the Mughals in 1608, where building owners allegedly bribe authorities to turn a blind eye to the stores.

On Saturday the taskforce faced resistance from Old Dhaka traders, prompting the authorities to halt the drive for several hours. It resumed after intervention by the mayor.

According to one survey conducted in 2015, some 70 per cent of Old Dhaka residential buildings, home to three million people, are used to hoard chemicals and other goods.

"In our estimate there are 20,000-25,000 chemical warehouses and factories in Old Dhaka," Abu Naser Khan, president of local environmental rights group Poribesh Bachao Andolon (POBA) told AFP.

"Each of this warehouse is a ticking time bomb. Chemicals are stored haphazardly there without following any proper guidelines. There will be more disasters if these warehouses continue to remain there," he said.

The city authorities launched a similar drive after the 2010 fire, but it ground to a halt following pressures from business owners.