Today, we will be looking at the biggest challenge for the continued development of Bangladesh as a developing nation – the challenge of delivering safe, secure and sustainable infrastructure for its residents.
It is vital for the government to deliver a strict policy for infrastructure development and maintenance in the real estate industry including commercial and private housing for the long-term safety of its citizens.
Recognizing the Need for Safety
In recent decades, there have been numerous incidents concerning Bangladesh’s real estate industry.
The need to develop safe and secure buildings is crucial anywhere in the country. Fatal incidents related to insufficient fire safety and lack of structural safety have claimed many lives.
More specifically, the number of garment factory buildings lacking proper architectural safety and following insecure development protocols does not seem to decrease with each devastating incident.
The real estate industry and development of property in Dhaka, as its major city, is in need of a clearly defined protocol that must be improved for the rectification of building safety deficiencies.
The urban population is growing exponentially, but those who reside in Dhaka among other busy cities in Bangladesh are still not offered safe, secure and sustainable properties in Dhaka. Building safety is an essential part of healthy urban life.
Not only do the government authorities need to build a modern metro city and country, they must also ensure the safety of its citizens by developing buildings and infrastructure that are made with high-quality raw materials, compliant with environmental safety regulations and sustainable real estate for the future.
Importance of Fire Safety for Buildings in Bangladesh
A consequence of the rapid rise in industrialization and modernization is also the supporting infrastructure. A booming manufacturing industry needs more factories and more equipment, and of course more workers.
However, with increasing demand and rapid increase in supply, some essential things are compromised. One such aspect is the lack of proper regulations in building safety, operational maintenance and safety measures. As a result, newer properties are built in substandard quality and older properties suffer from increased risks.
A highlighted event was the Tazreen Fashions factory fire on 24th November 2012. Approximately 112 workers lost their lives in the fire. The event triggered an immediate response where an independent body was appointed to identity fire safety issues and apply remedial measures.
Upon a thorough inspection across more than 250 factories, with detailed checklist of fire safety inspection, social compliance and security training, a lot of deficiencies were reported. It was soon identified that almost all buildings had similar issues.
Inherent safety issues were found in almost all buildings and no “quick fix” solution could be applied. A complete industry-wide rectification was necessary. The following are the highlights of the deficiencies that were identified in the vast majority of properties in Dhaka:
- Complete lack of a safety culture in Bangladesh
- Corruption in every level with underlying motives and personal interests
- Little or no technical knowledge regarding fire, flood, earthquake, etc. safety codes
- Lack of a building regulatory authority to enforce a rigid framework of safety
- Weak or non-existent safety mechanisms in architectural design & development
As a result, global brands were clear on the below standard safety and a flawed system in Bangladesh. It was upon the individual brands to either invest and fix the situation or stop their operations in the country.
The National Initiative – The Accord
Due to recent incidents surrounding issues such as building architectural safety, fire and hazard safety and natural disaster measures, an agreement known as “The Accord” came into effect in May 2013.
The Accord represented a legal agreement between global brands regarding Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh in order for the nation to continue its retail manufacture garments industry. Presently, it is signed by over 220 global brands, retailers and trade unions.
The agreement aims to ensure that Bangladeshi garments workers would not have to go to work fearing for their lives due to fire, building collapses or other disastrous incidents, which can be prevented with proper safety measures in place. Overall, this was targeted at achieving a safe and healthy building safety guideline in Bangladesh.
The Following Are the Key Features of The Accord:
- A legal agreement to be signed between brands & trade unions
- Brands must commit to being involved in the safety assurance and financial feasibility of measures
- Independent safety inspections to be held periodically
- Reports and plans of action must be properly disclosed
- A Safety Committee must be formed
- Safety Training Programs to be hosted for all
- Proper Safety and Health issues feedback or complaints system to be in place
- Workers’ Protection in terms of the right to refuse work due to safety concerns
- Promotion of Right to Freedom of Association (FoA)
- Training and Complaints Protocol to cover (FoA) rights
- Cooperating with national safety monitoring body or authority
Role of The Government
A recent incident that highlighted the need for the development of safe and secure buildings policies in Bangladesh was the Chawkbazar fire on 20th February in Dhaka. The fire disaster claimed at least 70 lives and reminded us that Bangladesh is still not up to the mark in terms of safety.
Research by the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) came to the conclusion that measures similar to The Accord need to be implemented across the board and not just for factories and commercial buildings.
It said that RAJUK must take action against the numerous buildings which violate the national building code of safety and development. The Government must take proper safety and maintenance measures, for both newly developed property and older real estate properties such as flats and houses for sale, since any discrepancies may result in a great risk for the people who will be living there.
How to Develop Safe and Secure Buildings
Over the past 25 years, Bangladesh has seen massive improvements in structural development. The majority of these real estate properties, as we have seen, were developed with no proper safety or secure development procedure or any enforcement of regulations from the authorities.
Due to the complete lack of safety standards and, in many cases, incompetence of existing regulations, we continue to witness disastrous accidents which could easily have been prevented. The reasons for these incidents include structural failure and nonexistent safety measures.
Building a new property
Those looking to build new properties in Dhaka or anywhere in Bangladesh must adhere to the national building codes. RAJUK and the respective authoritative bodies must take proper reinforcement measures to back regulations.
Buying a house
Those who are looking to buy houses or even rent anywhere in Bangladesh must ask important questions. Besides legal ownership, they must look into safety concerns. Does the building have the necessary safety clearance? Are there proper fire exits or fire safety mechanisms installed? Has it been inspected for structural safety? Has it been legally cleared by the government?
Houses, flats or land for sale
If you are looking to sell a house, flat, or land in Bangladesh, you must get it approved by the responsible body for its safety and security. While the garments industry is at the forefront of this issue, it largely impacts the entire nation.
In September of last year, the Bangladesh Compact was formed. It is a cooperation between Bangladesh, the European Union, the United States, Canada, and the International Labour Organization.
The Bangladesh Compact stated the following as its findings, which are not just true for the garments industry but for almost every property in Bangladesh:
- Lack of follow up or commitment to safety inspections and safety measures
- Inaccurate filing and disclosure of inspection reports
- No enforcement of existing regulations
- Mistakes in every level of corrective measures in place
The Bangladesh Government must act with more priority in dealing with this issue with a real commitment and genuine readiness. The existing buildings need to be secured with proper maintenance and safety measures immediately to effectively put things right.
Not only is it the local government’s responsibility, but giant brands operating all over the world must also be responsible for identifying risks and fixing the situation during their business deals. Appropriate input is necessary from locals such as the fire department in ensuring maximum effectiveness and avoiding potential shortcomings.
With rising natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, Bangladesh is as vulnerable as ever before. When we are exposed to these, we stand very little chance of making it through. However, with modern architectural discoveries, building techniques, and safety measures, we can minimize the potential damages caused.
However, if we completely ignore the basics of how to develop safe and secure buildings, then we are setting ourselves up for calamity. Buildings, bridges, flyovers may fail completely and collapse, resulting in a devastating loss of lives.
The problem has worsened in both developed and developing nations due to rapid urbanization. Modern times have shown us ways to engineer structures smartly to avoid damage from natural disasters.
Let us hope to walk into the future of development where inhabitants of buildings can always exit safely in case of natural disasters or accidents.
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Let us know your thoughts and suggestions in the comments.