How to Combat Shack Fires

ngos energy housing informal settlements
Thursday, 15 September, 2011 - 10:00

South Africa should have a comprehensive national plan to deal with the increasing number of shack fires which continue to claim many lives and cause serious injuries to people living in informal settlements

In recent months, there has been an unprecedented increase in media reporting of shack fires with all the gory details. We have all read the newspapers, listened to horrific stories from victims on radio and seen disturbing images on our television screens. Sadly, these fires will continue as long as no comprehensive national plan exists to deal systematically with the root problems.

Over the years while we, as the Paraffin Safety Association of Southern Africa, have been working in this area of injury prevention, we have realised that solutions lie in a number of areas, namely:

  • Change of behaviour by the consumers of flame based energy carriers;
  • A recognition, at policy level, that a  multiplicity of energy sources are used  in the homes;
  • A systems approach which addresses the labelling, pre-packaging, costs and distribution of energy carriers as well as appliance safety;
  • Proper standards and regulations and enforcement thereof;
  • Serious and sustained involvement of all stakeholders, including all spheres of government, in finding solutions;
  • A holistic poverty eradication approach;
  • A need for a comprehensive Household Energy Safety Policy.

The questions we must ask ourselves are: Who is doing something to comprehensively and sustainably prevent these fires? Who is doing something about the factors listed above? To what extent are we all working in silos instead of in collaboration? When are we going to realise that this is a national crisis of great proportions?

In 2007, we convened a national household energy summit which was attended by many stakeholders including energy users especially from the low income households. They came from all over the country and agreed on a set of policy proposals of what could be done by various stakeholders. In addition, we have spent a number of years researching the challenges and solutions to ensuring the safe use of household energy. We are ready to work with anyone who is interested in finding long term solutions. What is clear is that as a country, as provinces and as local communities, we need to urgently invest in finding and implementing solutions to deal with this national crisis.

- Patrick Kulati is managing director at Paraffin Safety Association of Southern Africa

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