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Tuesday, November 20, 2012
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Hazaribagh Fire

Hundreds in the open

Though Ruma and her family manage to escape the blaze in Hazaribagh early Sunday, the flames gutted their few earthly possessions. The child gives a blank look at the charred debris of her home. The photo was taken yesterday. Photo: Palash Khan

For some 700 low-income families of Boubazar at Hazaribagh, Sunday's devastating fire was only the beginning of a nightmare. All of them have lost one thing or the other -- some lost their loved ones, others had their belongings burned to the ground.

Having lost everything to the blaze, many of the 3,000 affected people, including women and children, spent their last two days and nights out in the open, in relatives' houses or in the street. Where they will sleep tonight no one knows.

"I lost my daughter and mother-in-law. I lost all my belongings. They [the government] are giving me some money. But where will I stay, what will I do?" asks restaurant worker Abul Kalam.

On Sunday night, the forty-year-old made room for himself at a relative's one-room home at Hazaribagh and was planning the same for last night. But the relative, who has four other members in his family, all living in the one-room house, asked him to find some other place.

Asked where he was thinking of going, he said he did not know. "I may go back to the slum, clean up the ruins and sleep in the open. Or something. I don't know."

He received Tk 40,000 from the district administration for the burial of his daughter and mother-in-law and some relief materials from the prime minister's relief fund. In addition, he got Tk 20,000 in compensation from the city corporation. Still his single big worry is where he would keep his wife and three children when they come back from his village home in Bhola after the burial.

He said it was very "painful" for him to not join the burial of his daughter, but he chose to stay back thinking he would otherwise be left out of the victims' list.

Md Selim, another victim of the fire, his wife and three children slept on Sunday night in the open near his burned down shanty. A betel nut trader, Selim on the fateful night lost to the fire his capital of TK 27,500, among all other things.

The 42-year-old said he had no other place to go and demanded that the authorities take steps to rehabilitate all the victims.

Indeed, condolences, financial support and relief materials from government and non-government organisations poured in following the blaze that killed 11 people and burned down about 700 shanties and 12 tin-shed houses. But as of last night, there was no report of any rehabilitation effort.

Against such a backdrop, the rights body Ain O Salish Kendra yesterday urged the government to take "effective measures" to rehabilitate the affected families.

Contacted, Dhaka Deputy Commissioner Shaikh Yusuf Harun told The Daily Star, "We are thinking what can be done in this regard." He added they were discussing the rehabilitation of the victims but did not make any decision yet.

Relief efforts such as distribution of food and clothing by government and non-government organisations as well as individuals continued for a second day yesterday.

A government list prepared with the help of local Awami League leaders put the number of affected families at 900. Each of the families was to get 30kgs of rice and Tk 5,000 along with some saris, lungis and blankets and shawls from the government fund.

Some victims, however, alleged a number of local influential people included on the list some families who were not affected at all.

But Selim Ahmed, president of ward-14 Awami League, who was involved with making of the list, rejected the allegation.

"We are trying to make sure that no affected family is left out," he said.

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