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Outbreak of fires in business/industrial centres is becoming an increasing concern. In the latest incident on Sunday, a massive fire erupted in the four-storey Hafeez Centre, Lahore's major market of mobile phones and computers. Luckily, no one was killed as the fire started at around 6:00 in the morning on a holiday. Nonetheless, by the time the fire brigade doused it after a struggle of 11 long hours, more than 400 shops, repair facilities, and godowns were reduced to ashes, and with them went up in smoke many livelihoods. Worst suffers are the traders who have had no insurance.

According to press reports, this was the fifth big fire in the Gulberg area, where the Hafeez Centre is located, within a span of just about two years. Other areas have seen loss of several lives in earlier fire incidents. It is difficult to forget the horrific May 2013 blaze in the LDA Plaza - supposed to be modern government-owned building - in which as many as 23 precious lives perished. Things in the other major urban centre Karachi are just as bad, if not worse. Although the appalling Baldia Town factory inferno turned out to be a case of willful arson, there have been a number of other incidents of fire in factories as well as residential buildings. Much of the damage they did could have been prevented had there been basic safety measures in place, such as fire alarms and water sprinklers. Instead after every such calamity, all and sundry express sympathies for the victims while the fire brigades are blamed for reaching late and the government expected to make up for the losses. Soon enough, it is business as usual. In the present instance, too, Punjab Health Minister Dr Yasmin Rashid visited the site on Chief Minister Usman Buzdar's behalf to commiserate with traders, and faced the same complaints and demands. She assured them of government help. Hopefully, the promised compensation will be forthcoming in a timely fashion. But the problem must be addressed in its wider aspects in view of the fact that there is a rising trend towards high-rises. Prime Minister Imran Khan's housing plan is also contingent on vertical construction. This calls for devising comprehensive fire safety rules.

Whether public or private all vertical construction must have mandatory fire risk containing measures. To ensure compliance the authorities concerned ought to conduct periodic inspections, and held to account if discovered showing laxity as a favour to any violator. And needless to say, the fire brigades should be better prepared to deal with the exigencies of the time. There have been instances, especially in Karachi, where the fire fighters were found to be grossly under-resourced, lacking such necessary equipment as snorkels for rescuing stranded people from atop high rise buildings even water, to do their duty. With the fire hazards getting more and more acute, all provincial governments must pay due attention to the issue. First and foremost, formulation and implementation of safety standards must get the priority they deserve.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020