We still do not know what ignited the fire at the Karachi garments factory that killed over 250 people. This is frightening, since it means we have no clue as to how to prevent similar infernos in the future. The Sindh government tribunal, set up to inquire into the reasons for the blaze, has not come any closer to the truth thus far. Electrical engineers have dismissed claims by firefighters that a short circuit triggered the fire, stating there is no real evidence of this. The firefighting department, as well as others, have yet to come up with full reports. The observation by the chief of the tribunal stating that highly caustic, possibly inflammable chemicals used at the plant could have been a factor, certainly needs to be examined.
Some highly significant facts have been emerging. Perhaps, more will surface as the inquiry continues. The rules related to electrical safety, for one, date back to pre-Partition times. These should have been updated a long time ago. The provincial energy and electrical department also says that the suspension of factory inspections, decided by the Sindh cabinet in 2003, may have increased the risk with the practices of many factories possibly going undetected. This matter needs to be looked into by involving all parties concerned. However, there are other still more frightening facts. In a city where high-rise buildings dot the skyline, the tribunal has been told that the firefighting department can only reach a height of 100 metres. This is alarming and cause for great concern for those working in such buildings. What is more, there is only one snorkel in Karachi where firefighters say at least 50 are needed.
These are all matters that need to be taken up urgently. We must hope that the tribunal hearings can succeed in playing a part in ensuring this and by doing so, help prevent another tragedy as awful as the one that took place at Ali Enterprises. Realisation must be followed up by implementation for any of this to happen.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 20th, 2012.