Safety oversight to blameEvery year during dry season, fire-induced disasters cause huge loss of properties and render many families homeless in different parts of the country.
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.