Safety oversight to blame

Safety oversight to blame

Mar 31, 2015-Every year during dry season, fire-induced disasters cause huge loss of properties and render many families homeless in different parts of the country. The incidence of fire has gone up in recent years, but the authorities concerned are woefully underprepared and under-resourced to effectively deal with fire-related disasters. On the evening of 23 March, a kitchen fire that started in a hotel turned into a massive inferno at Fungling, the district headquarters of Taplejung, in which 44 houses were razed. As many as 118 families were directly affected by the disaster which could have been averted if the district had a fire engine and other firefighting implements. The residents of Fungling had to wait for hours for the fire trucks to arrive from Ilam and Jhapa before the conflagration was brought under control the next morning. Like Fungling, there are many other places that do not have the means (or not enough) to protect themselves from fire. The Post Development Bureau interviewed Rameshwor Dangal, the chief of Disaster Management Division at the Ministry of Home Affairs, to learn the government measures to reduce the incidence of fire. Excerpts:

Is fire the least priority area in disaster management?

Absolutely not. Every year incidence of fire is increasing and we are doing our best to avert it. What is unique about fire is it is unpredictable unlike other disasters. We can remain prepared for floods and landslides during rainy season but not in case of fire. Since a majority of the fire incidents are caused by human oversight, it is important for people to remain cautious on the issue. Seventy percent of the fire-induced disasters can be averted through proper handling of fire sources. Changing regulators and pipe of cooking gas regularly would also help. People invest millions to build houses, but they are not willing to install fire extinguishers that cost no more than Rs 3,000. Until and unless people realise how deadly fire can become, things will not change just from our effort.

Local authorities in many places do not seem to have the means and the expertise to effectively deal with fire-inducted disasters. Why is it so?

We should understand that in a country like Nepal fire is a man-made disaster. It is the negligence with fire that is causing the disaster. Also, a majority of the houses are built of woods which make them more vulnerable to fire. The incidence of fire could be reduced if only people use fire safely and properly. As for the response, I don’t think it is lacking. The Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development is trying its best to be prompt enough response whenever there is an incident of fire.

Why has the government still not set up fire brigades in places like Taplejung ?

Look, we are doing our best. Since new municipalities are being added every year, one cannot expect for them to have fire brigades right away. The old municipalities do have firefighting teams and fire trucks. True, some of the fire trucks are not in working order due to lack of use for a long time. When a fire broke out in Ilam a few years ago, the local administration there could not put its fire truck to use due to technical problems. I recently knew that MoLD has written to all the municipalities, instructing them to keep their fire truck in operational condition.

What is government doing to raise awareness about fire safety?

We are trying to engage with media as frequent as possible. Also, directives have been sent to local bodies to communicate with media in local languages too. We are also urging the local disaster management committees to take action against people who do not follow the safety instructions from the authorities. After the fire in Taplejung, we have directed all hotels and business establishments there to install fire extinguishers. All these initiatives shall be replicated in other places as well.

Published: 31-03-2015 08:32

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