The Soccer World Cup Might Limit the Poor’s Access to Emergency Services

disasters FIFA World Cup informal settlements
Wednesday, 26 May, 2010 - 12:30

The upcoming FIFA World Cup is likely to create burdens and limitations on the disaster management and emergency services machinery in the host cities. There is already fear that few resources will be available if any non-soccer World Cup emergencies were to occur. For the Paraffin Safety Association Southern Africa, the winter period is the worst time when fire and flood disasters normally happen in the country. In addition, the lack of proper access to emergency services by the poor will be exacerbated by the focus of the emergency services on soccer venues

The 2010 Soccer World Cup is likely to place serious burdens and limitations on the disaster management and emergency services machinery in the host cities. It is estimated that thousands of spectators will descend on various cities in South Africa throughout the World Cup period. We have not seen the cities’ disaster management plans, but it is almost guaranteed that cities will place the majority of their emergency personnel in and around the designated sporting venues. In addition, most of the equipment such as emergency motor vehicles will also be deployed there. This means that few resources would be available to be deployed if any non-Soccer World Cup emergencies were to occur. Therefore ordinary citizens’ access to emergency services is likely to be drastically curtailed for the duration of the soccer spectacular.

While winter is perhaps the best time for FIFA to run its World Cup, this is the worst time when fire and flood disasters normally happen in South Africa. Because of winter, household energy-related fires are likely to feature prominently in the emergency scenario. Add to this the fact that since it will be schools holidays, school children will be home. Children will be looking after children while their parents are at work or watching football with friends. During the World Cup period there will also be a high rate of alcohol consumption as it always happens during most sporting events. All this will create conducive conditions for fire-related disasters and injuries.

The communities which are likely to be negatively impacted by these are informal settlements. It is estimated that one in six of all South African households lives in a shack. The number of South African households living in shacks is increasing at more than double the rate of the population growth and shack fires in winter are a big problem in South Africa. Shacks burn easily because they are made of wood, plastic, cardboard and other combustible materials. Fire services often find it difficult to gain access to informal settlements due to the density of structures and lack of access roads. The lack of proper access to emergency services by the poor will be exacerbated by the focus of the emergency services on soccer venues.

Information and communication are critical. The host cities have a constitutional obligation to inform their citizens on how they are going to ensure that their access to emergency services will also be guaranteed. Beyond information and communication, is the need for concrete steps to be taken to ensure people’s access to emergency services during the World Cup. But communities also have to take responsibility for their safety from energy-related and other injuries. Parents should ensure that paraffin is carefully and safely stored away from children’s access. They must make sure that paraffin and other cooking appliances are monitored always when in use. They should not drink and cook. Preventative action by community members will help mitigate emergency services problems that are likely to be occasioned by the 2010 Soccer World Cup. We hope everyone in South Africa will enjoy the World Cup assured that their access to emergency services is not under threat.

- Patrick Kulati is Managing Director at Paraffin Safety Association of Southern Africa and Phumzile Nteyi is Provincial Manager at the same organisation.

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