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Specter haunts us again

A fire on Tuesday gutted 13 houses in Changzamtog, Thimphu. People who lived in those houses that are no more could salvage nothing pretty much because they weren’t there when the incident occurred early in the evening.

This should come as a strong reminder of danger that our towns are increasingly being exposed to. Almost every two years, we witness makeshift houses and camps succumb to fire. And quickly, rather very conveniently, we blame it all on electric short circuit and let the matter there to rest.

All is not right the way we build our society. For why, in the first place, should mini settlements be let to grow that are fast taking the shape of urban slums? Certainly these small development features don’t fit into our grand image of a welfare society.

There is something seriously wrong in the way we pursue development and share our prosperity. Our words and promises do not match with reality. And this is sad.

Makeshift settlements are highly vulnerable to fire hazards. And for many reasons, indeed. Electric connections in such settlements are mostly done unprofessionally, to say nothing about the kind of materials people use to build their little havens and cozy little domiciles. There will, of course, be cases of short circuit.

What is appalling is, however, the ease with which we let, or rather encourage, the growth of many settlement built with highly combustible materials. Interestingly, we have makeshift houses mostly around places of high regard and importance. And the houses are built close to each other, sometimes separated only by a thin cardboard.

We are building challenges, instead of reducing them. Firefighting becomes a costly affair when houses are intricately built together, to say nothing about awkward terrains and vastness they spread on to. We have a very effective firefighting department, but that gives us no reason to rest assured.

The real picture is this: wherever in our society there is concentration of power and prosperity, there grows myriad small shacks. What juxtaposition indeed!

Such spectres will continue to haunt us again if we are not serious about the kind of development we aspire and work for. If we can think about danger fire poses  to our heritage and cultural sites like dzongs, we should be really very serious. We cannot blame short circuit all the time. We, each one of us, must be able to blame our negligence.

But the loss would just too great. That’s why we should stop blaming short circuit and act as we must to make our settlements safe.

It is high time that we had a law that disallows growth of temporary shacks. Or else, there should be strong regulations to make sure that safety is maintained absolutely. Well, let’s look at how we are growing really, physically, emotionally, and spiritually as a society.

Let’s summon some courage to laugh, and also to cry, at our own hypocrisy. Why do fire continue to haunt us?

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One comment

  1. It’s actually a bit confusing to read. When it comes to the fire, preventive measures always comes before fighting the fire unless one’s job is fire fighting. The social and economic reasons behind the existence of urban slums are probably not very different from that of urban poor. To build cities with different cost of living can’t be a pre-development condition. But living in some city or town can always be cheaper than living in another one. Every society will have a class living at the bottom of economic status. If urban slum is an issue to deal with today; tomorrow we will be dealing with makeshift shops or eateries. When our urban development activities are well planned and designed in advance, somewhere we forget to create cheap accommodation for all those who will need it. The bigger is their population, the tougher a challenge that’s for all of us.

    If there can be old age homes or children homes, having homes for the urban poor are not impossible. Every city needs to be prepared to deal with it. If we don’t plan it for them, these so called slums will come up everywhere totally unplanned. When urbanization is a well planned process; planning to create cheap accommodation in terms of a ‘modern slum with improved living conditions’ should be a part of that process.

    But more than some laws, we need development codes for that. Development of our cities will reach saturation level within a defined border, but not all ‘urban poor’ will head to village becoming not necessarily ‘rural rich’. That’s where we talk de-concentration of economic growth activities. But it’s always easier to write or talk about. Doing it will require a national effort and a belief that it can be done.

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