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Fire Hits Bangladesh Slum; No Casualties, Extensive Damage

Some 350 to 500 shanties were totally razed in a February 3rd fire at Shahider Tek, a Bangladeshi slum. No deaths or casualties were reported, but more than 2,000 inhabitants of the area suffered loss or damage to personal belongings.

Fire fighters responding to the blaze were impeded by narrow, nearly impassible access roads and insufficient water supplies. The cause of the fire is still undetermined. More than 90 minutes were required to extinguish it.

Slum dwellers living in small, crowded, poorly constructed shelters with inadequate sanitation, meager water sources, and little or no gas or electric power, are exposed to an elevated risk of fires. When fires occur, they spread rapidly and with devastating results.

Fire prevention and safety regulations are practically non-existent, and people have little or no awareness of what to do in case of a fire, increasing the vulnerability of the slum population and its housing.

Accelerated and haphazard urbanization, which has created slum areas lacking in adequate roads, has prevented fire fighters from responding quickly to fires.

Fires at apparel factories have been equally devastating and fatal, owing, in part, to similar problems.

Some 117 people were killed, for example, in the Tarzeen Fashion factory fire, and 200 more were injured. The recent fire at the Smart Fashion factory killed seven workers.

The heavy death toll has been attributed, in large part, to a lack of fire prevention and safety measures in the factories and a lack of awareness of fire hazards and safety precautions among the 1.5 million factory workers, mostly women.

Experts have strongly urged slum dwellers, factory workers, and city dwellers to know what to do and not to do in case of a fire.

Bangladeshi officials have issued a call to establish emergency task forces in factories, schools, colleges, offices, and elsewhere to learn first aid and rescue techniques, to keep human and material losses to a minimum.