Community Fire Prevention
Enabling slum dwellers to prevent and tackle fire hazards by building community led prevention and response mechanisms.
Fire is a frequent hazard in the urban slums of Bangladesh particularly in the hot dry season (March to May). Image source: collected from internet based news site.
Hundreds of slum dwellers become homeless losing all their household assets and belongings due to incidents of fire. Often it is women who have to bear the brunt of fires.
A man cries after loosing all his belongings in a recent fire in one of the slums of Dhaka city. Image source: collected from internet based news site.
Slum houses are made of inflammable materials such as bamboo and timber. As a result once ignited fire spreads rapidly and can burn down the whole slum within hours. For most of the slums heavy traffic congestions in Dhaka city and narrow roads within the slums do not allow the fire fighters to respond in time. Image source: collected from internet based news site.
BRAC Urban Development Program is working to address the challenges of urbanization in Bangladesh through participatory and integrated interventions.
EXPLAIN YOUR IDEA
Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated cities in the world. Every year nearly 400,000 people migrate to Dhaka seeking better livelihoods. A large part of them end up in numerous slums spread across the city being exposed to many risks and vulnerabilities. Fire is a constant threat for slum dwellers. Fire starts from electrical shorts, lit cigarettes and mosquito coils, kitchen stoves, etc. and spreads rapidly destroying the densely packed dwellings made of inflammable materials. Sometimes fires are lit intentionally to evict slum dwellers. Slum households lack preparedness measures and due to Dhaka’s traffic congestions fire fighters often cannot respond on time. They lose all their belongings and are often unable to cope with such shocks.
We want to build community capacity to prevent incidents of fire by promoting behavior change regarding fire safety and precautions, and transferring technical knowhow to use traditional fire fighting materials. We will engage community groups in slums to raise awareness on safety and prevention measures. We will support them to develop their own disaster preparedness and management plan (e.g. preserving water and sand in each house, safe cooking facilities), and provide them fire fighting materials so that they can put out fire before spreading, ensure evacuation and get support from relevant authorities. We will connect these groups with Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defense for long term engagement.
The core beneficiary of this initiative will be the urban slum dwellers who are facing everyday risk of fire hazard and losing all their assets due to this . It will develop their capacity to take precautionary measures and enable them for better preparedness against fire hazards. On the other hand the relevant public body will be more accountable to community due to their functional relationship. The idea will be implemented in selected slums of Dhaka and Chittagong based on community interest.
HOW DOES YOUR IDEA TAKE INTO ACCOUNT THE CONTEXT OF URBAN SLUMS AND CLIMATE CHANGE?
With the overwhelming urbanization rate and being one of most vulnerable countries due to the adverse impact of climate change, Bangladesh is in the stage of formulating and implementing various adaptation strategies. Climate change is anticipated to compel increasing number of people to migrate from rural to urban areas which will inevitably lead to increased growth of urban slums. Eventually it will deteriorate the living quality of poor urban dwellers and will expose them to frequent hazards such as fire. Bangladesh is putting it’s emphasize on inclusive urban development to tackle the challenges of urbanization. However, due to lack of pro-poor and integrated urban planning, and inadequate policy frameworks, slum dwellers are often left out of the process. This project will effectively connect the slum dwellers with relevant authorities so that they are able to voice their concerns and demand more pro-poor and accountable services. Furthermore, gains from NGO and government interventions are often lost due to fire hazard related shocks to slum dwellers. This initiative will prevent that by creating a community led protection mechanism.
As for design principles the initiative is highly participatory in nature which ensures flexibility, adaptability and optimized use of limited resources. It allows addressing both acute and chronic shocks. It has strong gender focus due to that fact that often women bear the brunt of fires in slums. It will engage existing community groups and institutions which will allow linking with existing urban systems and strengthening them.
Yes, for two or more years
I’ve worked in a sector related to my idea for at least two years
TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOURSELF
We are a team of development practitioners working in Urban Development Program at BRAC. This program aims to improve wellbeing and empower urban poor by ensuring basic services, promoting pro-poor urban governance and fostering innovation towards reducing multi-dimensional poverty and deprivation.
IS THIS A NEW OR RECENT IDEA FOR YOU OR YOUR ORGANIZATION? HOW DOES IT DIFFER FROM WHAT YOU ARE ALREADY DOING?
This is a new idea for our organization. We are working in the urban slum areas of Dhaka city using participatory bottom up approaches to strengthen community capacity for collective action. Our present work mostly focuses on enabling poor slum dwellers to access citizenship rights and entitlements and basic services. We are going to launch an intervention from 2016 that focuses on building community platforms which will allow urban poor slum dwellers to identify local challenges and come up with effective solutions. Our existing work is more focused towards enhancing social capital as a way of building social resilience. This idea will allow us to test an approach for building community capacity for addressing fire hazard - a recurring problem in the urban slums in Bangladesh - which could be scaled up at the national level if proven effective.
HOW IS YOUR IDEA DIFFERENT FROM OTHER SIMILAR INITIATIVES? WHAT ARE YOU DOING DIFFERENTLY? WHAT UNIQUE ADVANTAGES DO YOU HAVE?
Conceptually this initiative will make a paradigm shift in disaster risk reduction approach from disaster recovery approach. It takes a community driven approach of fire hazard risk reduction that makes is different from other initiatives as we believe that community people are the major agents of tackling problem. We just need to capacitate them to realize their potential. It encompasses both the preparedness measures and response mechanism though we are predominantly focusing on ways of avoiding fire occurrence. It was assumed that Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defense (BFSCD) is solely responsible for firefighting. But the context is quite different in urban slums due to its unplanned urbanization, massive population density and narrow road. Hence in case of fire, BFSCD barely reach slums in time. Action form community comes first, both in pre and post fire occurrence. The mechanism will ensure a functional partnership between the community and BFSCD. Meanwhile, due to the verity of the impact and issue faced by different segment of the society, this idea takes an inclusive approach of forming representative community group considering age, gender and economic condition.
In our proposed intervention community will prepare their own action plan where BRAC will play the role of facilitator.
Identification of the vulnerable spot and escape route with necessary marking in urban slums.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR UNANSWERED QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR IDEA?
Due to the rapid mobility of the urban population, it’s really hard to organize people towards a common objectives. Moreover, as the slum dwellers don’t have land ownership, often they are reluctant to response in the community action where they belong. It will be effective to test what can drive them to take collective action. On the other hand, though our preliminary research revealed the underlying cause of fire which includes the intentional lighting of fire by land owner. But we don’t’ know yet whether the land owner do it only to evict people or there are some other geopolitical factor that trigger them. Exploring this question will be a key point of reshaping the projects design.
WHY DO YOU THINK THE PROBLEM YOUR IDEA SOLVES FOR HASN'T BEEN SOLVED YET?
The problem has not been solved it because there is a common notion that it is the role of Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defense (BFSCD) to take initiatives for addressing fire hazard. However, BFSCD cannot alone solve this problem particularly in the urban slums which are highly vulnerable to fire hazard and when fire breaks out often either the BFSCD cannot get in due to narrow roads or there are no water points available in the nearby areas. Some existing interventions provide training on disaster preparedness as a whole but these interventions do not extend to the phase of equipping communities with the physical tools to address the issue.
HOW HAS YOUR IDEA CHANGED BASED ON FEEDBACK FROM YOUR COMMUNITY?
During beneficiary feedback phase we organized couple of sessions with community members in different slums of Dhaka city. Firstly we wanted to know their perception about fire hazard. All of them know the disastrous impact of fire hazard in terms of lives and property and mostly know the common reason for fire occurrence but they don’t realize their collective role in minimizing their risk. One of the community member was saying “Agun karo bap ma keu chare na”- “Fire never leaves anyone behind” that demonstrate their awareness about impact fire can have. Later we asked them play their role before and after fire occurrence which was very exciting for them. During this role play we facilitated to fill the gaps made a synergy with our proposed intervention. However, when we formed the community groups, we found it really difficult to engage because of their work schedule which is very flexible and random during daytime. So, they came up with the idea of incorporating local shop owners and land owner as they are supposed to stay in slums irrespective of time. Moreover, it is supposed to create a sense of ownership. However, as per residents past experience, there need to have a water source in close proximity to slum. But due to the space constrain and high value of the space it was challenging to find a common place. Here the roles of house owner come into play by providing space in negotiation with the slum dwellers.
WHAT WOULD YOU ULTIMATELY LIKE TO ACHIEVE WITH THIS IDEA? WHAT IS YOUR NEXT STEP TO GET THERE?
This idea is a test case of several approaches of reducing fire hazard risk in urban slums. As our ultimate goal is urban poverty reduction, this idea will help us to understand the impact of resilience to fire hazard in urban poverty both in terms of life loos and property damage. At first, we want to scale up this idea in all the prevailing slums of major urban area of Bangladesh. Later replicate this model of fire hazard risk reduction in the rural area of Bangladesh on a customize basis. We hope that, securing life and property for marginalized people will help them to get out of poverty sustainably.
How does your idea connect to the broader system of the city where you plan to implement?
Dhaka has been called a city of multiple authorities but without a custodian. The voice of the marginalized part of the society is rarely heard due to the complex multiplicity of authorities coupled with the absence of transparency and accountability mechanism. Our proposed idea will facilitate slum dwellers to raise their voice by making a functional relationship with Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defence (BFSCD) which will eventually leverage them to demand other civic services like drinking water supply, proper sanitation, drainage network etc. from respective public department.
Functional relationship between community and other relevant stakeholders for building resilience against fire hazard in urban slums
Some existing initiatives are trying to build the capacity of slums dwellers and public department but on silo basis. Our proposed initiative will connect the people from both end of the pyramid. The successful demonstration of this mechanism will enable the slum dwellers to build their confidence in acquiring services towards ensuring urban resilience not only for periodic shock but also everyday risk.