Social impacts of Sitakunda carnage
Recently Bangladesh saw its Chernobyl. On the night of 4 June 2022, a fire and subsequent explosions occurred at a container depot in Sitakunda Upazila of Chattagram District killing at least 48 people and injured more than 450 others.Whither the official death toll directly attributed to Chernobyl tragedy (1986) that is recognized by the international community is just 31 people with the UN saying it could be 50.
Therefore, what Bangladesh witnessed, experienced and suffered from on that fateful night was no less painful than 86's Chernobyl.
Fire incidents are a part of everyday Bangladesh. Around 285,000 fire hazards have been reported according to the Fire Services and Civil Defense in last two decades.
Fire in train, launch, garments factory, juice factory, corporate office, residential buildings and slums, Bangladesh has seen it all. The container fire and subsequent explosions in BM depot however was not any average Bangladeshi fire incident.
Because there was chemical, tonnes and tonnes of chemicals. Though it has yet not been confirmed that what chemicals were stored in the containers and in what quantity.
After days of firefighting, Fire service finally contained the catastrophic fire. However with the shooting flames being put out, our problems have only started not ended. Apparently with our naked eyes, the detrimental outcomes seem to be limited to a death toll of 48 with hundreds wounded and a possible property destruction and economic fallout of over a thousand crores. But as we start thinking critically, we can realize the causality rates are not as simple as they seem.
Mortality rates are only the tip of the ice berg. The inhabitants of nearby localities, be it adult men women children or elderly, all are at serious threat of lifelong complex forms of morbidities.
When someone inhales Hydrogen Peroxide for a really long time, it can reduce their reproductive capacities be it a man or woman.
Depot owners have already announced monetary compensation for the family of both deceasedand injured persons, along with plethora of other promises including providing jobs to the family members of fire victims. Needless to say all these promises will be forgotten as soon as media attention deviates to the next hot topic of Bangladesh. Do you remember Tazrin Garments fire catastrophe or Rana Plaza collapse??Big mouths made big promises in similar fashion.
Needless to say how dreadfully women can suffer in a patriarchal society, after the sudden demise of her husband especially if she is young. Ramjanul Islam Rony, one of the ten brave firefighters who died in the deadly fire of container depot had been posted to Sitakunda Fire Station just three months ago. Rony's wife Rupa whom he married just six months ago is just 19 years of age. She has no personal means of income, no savings, and no support to meet her survival needs. She comes from a poverty stricken family. There is no way she can return to her father's home. Her father has no money left to pay for her dowry a second time. She is completely devastated by the constant fear of an uncertain future. She is determined not to marry again, instead she has begged for state's assistance to help her find a government job, while her in-laws have already expressed a strong desire for her remarriage to her deceased husband's immediate younger brother. So now this young girl is torn between her dreams of a financially independent future and the patriarchal norms of alleviate marriage.
Fireman Moniruzzaman Monir burnt to death before getting the chance to hold his seven-day-old daughter. The 23 years old fireman Rana Mia was the son of a poor betel leaf shopkeeper and the family's main breadwinner.His dream was to help his father build a new concrete house. Now that he is gone and his family members don't know how to survive.
Firefighter Nipon Chakma has also left behind a family of two daughters and one wife in Rangamati. With the loss of main bread earner, his family is also doubtful about their future and survival. The elder daughter is pursuing her undergraduate studies while the younger one is a sixth grader. The Lakers School and College has taken responsibility of the education of Unnati Chakma, Nipon Chakma's younger daughter. But who will bear their expenses in long run?
Family members of Oliur Rahman Nayan, a worker of the BM Container Depot who died while live-streaming the fire incident on Facebook, are in great shock at how quickly they lost the 20-year-old.He was the eldest among four brothers and two sisters.He joined the depot to improvehis family's financial conditions. Now the whole family doesn't know what is lying ahead of them in future. Who will run the family expenses? What will happen to his young wife who is also eight months pregnant? Who will look after his unborn child?
There were many depot workers like Nayan, who couldn't manage to leave any fortune behind but a only a pile of responsibilities. But who will shoulder these responsibilities now?
The poor families have low resource base, low savings and with the sudden death of male breadwinners, it is likely to create long term adversive impact on the lives and livelihood of left behind families such as pushing them to the edge of poverty line and into destitution. In such cases, the sole responsibility of running the household often exclusively falls on women's shoulders, while she might not have enough education, resource and connections to buffer such sudden shocks. The household members including children, elders, and women themselves as a result get deprived of nutritious food, good education and health care needs.
In times of economic shock or crisis, gender gaps are likely to widen with regard to the left behind widows often exposed to myriad of problems including insecurity, lack of voice, family pressure, stigma, violence and deprivation. With the declining allocation for social safety net programmes (pension excluded) in the proposed budget of 2023, the sufferings of left behind families and their women are only likely to magnify in future.
Tasnim Nowshin Fariha, Student,
Dept of Women and Gender
Studies University of Dhaka