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Community Fire Prevention

Enabling slum dwellers to prevent and tackle fire hazards by building community led prevention and response mechanisms.

Photo of Kazi Nazrul Fattah

Written by


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.


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


  • Yes


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.
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.
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Attachments (2)

Beneficiary Feedback - Fire Hazard in Urban Slums of Dhaka.pdf

Beneficiary feedback on the proposed intervention for developing community based mechanism to address fire hazard in the urban slums of Bangladesh.

User Experience Map - Urban Slum Fire Hazard.pdf

User experience map for the proposed intervention for developing community based mechanism to address fire hazard in the urban slums of Bangladesh.


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Photo of Manik Kumar Saha

Another recent example of Dhaka where intentional fire breakout has been used as a tools of evicting urban slum dwellers from their land.কল্যাণপুর-বস্তিতে-আগুন-দেওয়ার-অভিযোগ

Photo of Chioma Ume

Hi Kazi,
Below is some feedback from our experts. We look forward to your responses! 

How does your idea address the root causes of the fires (e.g. overcrowding)?

Is the focus of your idea simply educate slum dwellers about fire safety and prevention?

What gives you confidence that the community is interested in participating in an initiative like this? 

Photo of Kazi Nazrul Fattah

Thanks Chioma for disseminating the expert feedback.

Regarding root cause, Our research and experience of working in urban areas revealed that the underlying reasons of fire occurrences in slums include lack of awareness about the risk factors that can cause fire, certain behaviors and practices (such as using unsafe cooking facilities, burning waste materials very close to the houses, throwing cigarette butts without putting out the fire), makeshift electrical wiring, etc. Our proposed initiative is designed to address these root causes of fire occurrence. Moreover, sometimes slums are set to fire intentionally for eviction. Establishment of an effective fire hazard prevention mechanism is expected to reduce this risk as well. However, overcrowding in urban slums is inevitable due to dweller’s limited earning with high living cost in urban area. Consequently, the proposed intervention capitalizes this potential huge slum dwellers by forming representative groups and encourages collective actions towards reducing fire hazard.

Concerning the focus of our intervention, 
Our idea focuses on addressing the issue of fire hazard on two levels. On one level, a major focus obviously is to educate and aware slum dwellers regarding the causes of fire hazard and prevention measures. However, at the same time the focus is also on developing a functional mechanism for fire hazard prevention which involves community capacity building, equipping the community with simple preventive tools, access to water reservoirs and connecting them with the Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defence (BFSCD) authorities.

With respect to ensuring participation of the community we believe that, 
Risk of fire hazard significantly contributes to perpetuate vulnerability of urban slum dwellers. Hence there is already a need among slum communities for undertaking an initiative such as this. Community members also expressed their interest during consultation with the beneficiaries. BRAC has 44 years’ of experience in successfully developing and implementing community led interventions for realizing people’s own potentials and addressing the root causes of social injustice. BRAC’s Community Empowerment program (, Human rights and Legal Aid Service Programme ( are some of the notable examples of engaging community in participatory manner. In our proposed initiative, BRAC will act like a facilitator while ensuring the participation of the slum community from the very beginning of the projects by creating a sense of ownership among the slum dwellers. We strongly believe that demonstrating the benefits of this initiative for reducing fire hazard risk collectively and upholding the sense of ownership in this mechanism among community members will act as a prime catalyst for participation.

Photo of Chioma Ume

Thanks Kazi! 

Photo of Manik Kumar Saha

I just want to supplement Mr. Kazi's answer of the question "How does your idea connect to the broader system of the city where you plan to implement?"

By end of 2016 BRAC will develop a multi-stakeholder network, as part of its ongoing urban interventions, with participation of NGOs, public authorities and service providers to ensure comprehensive service delivery to the urban poor particularly the slum dwellers. The proposed intervention will also take leverage of this network to connect with any other existing initiatives and build synergy.

Photo of Shane Zhao

Great to see the additional details Kazi! Perhaps you might like to reach out and engage with these like-minded initiatives in the Improve Phase. We're excited to see how you might collaborate on similar initiatives.


Expanding the use of fire sensors:

Photo of Manik Kumar Saha

Hi Shane,

Thanks for bringing thematic effort of making urban areas resilient in terms of combating disaster.
The first idea of “Mapping and Managing heat stress” will have a significant contribution on understanding the hotspots of vulnerability due to heat waves which will leads to a more pro-poor policy implication from individual to city level. Regarding collaboration it can leverage the community led fire hazard risk reduction initiative for assessing/mapping the risk of fire, based on certain criteria. On broader aspect there are ample opportunities to create partnership with BRAC Urban Development Programme by identifying the service gaps in urban slums towards enhancing resilience knowledge.
On the other hand we can easily collaborate with the 2nd idea of “Fire Sensor”. As our initiative primary aimed at enhancing the prevention measures in urban slums, we can install a fire sensor in each household which will not only disseminate the information regarding fire occurrence but also enable other slums dwellers to response immediately for saving their lives and property.

Photo of Christian Keegan

One method of reducing future hazard, exposure, vulnerability and thus risk of fire in informal settlements would be for future migrates to cities such as Dhaka to leave adequate space between their places of abode, work and leisure. The space should be adequate for the retrospective fitting of infrastructure and services inclusive of those that pertain to water as the settlements formalise. The space should also act as a physical barrier to the spread of fire. Training some of the dwellers of these settlements in urban planning and management would be a great start.

Photo of OpenIDEO

Congrats on making it to the Feedback Phase Kazi! We would love it if you can take some time to answer the new Refinement questions that we've added to your original idea submission form. To answer the new questions, hit the Edit Contribution button at the top of your post. Scroll down to the entry fields of the new Refinement questions. Hit Save when you are done editing.

Also, here's a useful tip: When you update the content of your post, it'd be helpful to indicate this in your idea title by adding an extension. For example, you can add the extension " - Update: Experience Maps 11/16" to you idea title. This will be a good way to keep people informed about how your idea is progressing!

Photo of Rehana Merali

Hi Kazi, this is very interesting and very much in line with our idea as well: We do not currently work in slums in Bangladesh per se but we do run a volunteering programme in partnership with the local YMCA. Volunteers have recently helped with a mapping exercise (incl. in Chittagong) with exactly the aim of building local resilience to disaster. Please follow these links to our website:
and let us know if you would like to link up our 2 initiatives!

Photo of Kazi Nazrul Fattah

Hi Rehana, thanks for your note. Yes, our ideas are very much aligned - at BRAC we have been thinking for sometime about setting up establishing some sort of community information and resource centers. Our urban development programme is a new initiative and we are looking forward to link up with others to explore effective solutions, learn and scale up. I will be happy to link up with your 2 initiatives. Cheers. Kazi