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Syed Mahabubul Kader

This photograph shows people surrounding the remains of a car previously engulfed in flames in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

In the last ten years, over 16,000 fire incidents have occurred in Bangladesh, killing an estimated 1,590 people. The fires are frequently attributed to illegal storage of chemicals in unregulated warehouses in Old Dhaka. This highly congested part of the city – with a population density of approximately 1,100 people per acre – is home to nearly 15,000 chemical warehouses. The volume and type of these chemicals combined with lax and unenforced safety standards contribute to the devastating nature and frequency of these fires and the tragic, preventable loss of human life they cause.

While safety rules became tougher in the wake of the 2013 Rana Plaza garment factory disaster, safety lapses causing deaths continue due to “…greed…corruption and mismanagement,” as the chief executive of the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association observed. The government has ordered the owners of some of these chemical warehouses to move their businesses out of the area, but, to date, the orders have not been enforced. Underscoring the lack of accountability, no action has been taken against the owners of one warehouse that caused a 2010 fire, which killed 124 people.