Like a volcano waiting to erupt, the fire in Karachi’s timber market was a disaster waiting to happen. This is not a first. On Friday, a fire broke out in a Yarn factory in Karachi near Ghani Chowrangi. On Saturday, a fire broke out at a factory in Quaidabad in Karachi at a grease factory to be extinguished 10 hours later. Congested markets in Lahore and Karachi are urban planning nightmares with multi-storey plazas and basements built with no ventilation or fire exits, surrounded by more markets and residential areas. Though it is now easy to blame the fire fighters for not being able to control the fire, the root causes have to be addressed. Why wasn’t this hazard pre-empted by local authorises? It’s timber, it’s easy to burn, accidents happen, but one must plan ahead so that they are avoided.

Business interests keep expanding, with no regulation by the government. The local bureaucracy in our cities is often corrupt and nothing happens without bribes. In the case of Lahore’s fire in Anarkali Bazaar, how are contractors allowed to build tall plazas in such congested markets? Commercial planning and permits are expensive and hard to come by. Yet, there’s new construction going on in Anarkali, Urdu Bazar and the various Walled City markets all the time to the detriment of local residents, culture and quality of life in the area. Twelve people in Anarkali died, not from burns, but suffocation. This is all the fault of bad planning on the part of authorities, criminal negligence on the part of contrition workers and architects, and irresponsibility on the part of local trade unions.

And let us not forget the energy crisis, which no lazy government in the last ten years has been able to solve. When proper provision of gas and electricity is not available, what are the people supposed to do other than hook up more wires for generator and UPS setups, often makeshift arrangements of copper and tape? Or use gas cylinders, prone to bursting? Or even make their own fire with paper, wood or coal? There are a myriad of causes that can lead to these disasters. Added to which we have a national problem of over population. Our resources are stretched and this is our breaking point.