February 10th, 2008 by Shakir Lakhani

Most people I know say that the recent multiple fires in Karachi’s industries have been caused by the factory owners themselves to claim insurance, since they have recently suffered enormous losses. This may or may not be true, but it is a fact that the garment sector in particular has been the victim of competition from Chinese and Bangladeshi exporters (who are favoured by the Americans as they do not look like militant Muslims). I wonder why the insurance companies do not carry out surveys to determine if factories have effective fire-fighting systems before providing insurance cover. I have run many industrial units in the past forty years, yet I do not remember an insurance company representative ever making a visit to check whether fire extinguishers were charged properly or whether there was water in the storage tank to be used in fire fighting.

Another possible reason for the fires is the habit which watchmen and other workers have of warming themselves in front of burning pieces of wood or coal. On cold nights one can see three or four men sitting around such a fire at the gates of apartment buildings and factories. The sparks from such fires could have ignited bales of cotton lying nearby and caused the fires to spread rapidly.

There have been some recorded cases of small generators being the cause of fires in apartment buildings. I don’t see why it should be necessary for residents of buildings to have generators inside their apartments. Generators can easily be installed in the compounds of buildings, so that the building is not affected if a generator catches fire.

In any case, it should be made compulsory for factory and building owners themselves to eliminate all such causes which could result in havoc and destruction. Periodic inspections by government inspectors and insurance companies will go a long way to prevent major damage in future.