April 24, 2022
By Ayoob Rajper
“They are gone!” laments Imam Din Chandio, speaking of his four little children who he lost in the deadly blaze that erupted in Dadu’s Mehar tehsil on April 18. The fire destroyed more than 30 homes in Faiz Mohammad Chandio village. All there was left was ash.
At least eight casualties were reported in the incident – all of them minors and from Imam’s household – when a fire in his kitchen began eating up the thatched roof of his home.
“The fire broke out in a corner at around 8 pm,” he recounted. “I ran and told my wife to get the children outside as I rushed over to my brother’s courtyard to wake him up. My wife began panicking; she grabbed one of our daughters and ran outside, while one son ran over to my brother’s home and managed to escape.”
But their three other sons, 15-year-old Moor, 13-year-old Rashid and seven-year-old Alam, as well as a daughter, barely three years old, were all burnt alive, trapped inside. Imam’s wife is so traumatized by the incident, that she has not said anything since it happened.
In addition to the eight children that perished in the incident, at least 20 people suffered severe burns while over 60 livestock animals died.
“We did not even have time to release our animals,” says Imam.
The blaze would have stayed in one place, but for a passing dust storm made it spread uncontrollably to the neighbouring homes, and within a matter of minutes, an entire section of the village was consumed by the conflagration.
WAITING FOR HELP
Kaccho (another name for the area) is barren, and groundwater is extremely difficult to come by. Without anything to put out the flames, the villagers were left watching helplessly as everything they owned and had was reduced to cinders during the next 12 hours. They kept waiting for help that never arrived.
On a visit to the village two days later, on April 20, the Chief Minister of Sindh Murad Ali Shah announced Rs500,000 in compensation for every life lost, Rs200,000 for all those injured, and the market value of the cattle killed in the fire. He also stated that a three-member committee headed by the home secretary would inquire into the possibility of it being an arson attack.
The following day in Islamabad, during a media presser, Shah confessed that the emergency response had been slow and that the firetruck deployed near Mehar village was out of order. He assured that if anyone was found responsible for the delay they would be penalized.
But though the fire began from a home, the villagers and the young political activists have held the Government and state machinery squarely responsible for the tragedy – had they acted in time, they say, perhaps some lives and property could have been saved.
Some victims claim that once the fire broke out, they called and alerted others. Many spectators managed to reach the site and record videos of the incident, but it took over 18 hours for someone from the administration to arrive.
While relief goods were arranged by the Sindh Government and some welfare organizations for the affected families of Faiz Mohammad Chandio village, a video emerged online on Friday in which police personnel were seen unloading cartons of food and other necessities from a truck and driving off with them.
Following the outcry, the Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) announced that all those involved in the theft have been suspended from duty.
While it may be more convenient for the government to make promises and fulfil them after the incident is now over, it now needs to consider how to prevent the complete breakdown of emergency response systems so that such tragedies do not come about, and take stern legal action against officials who fail to perform their professional duties.