AS blazing fires continue to rip through Namibia’s informal settlement townships, locals are warned to refrain from building their house structures with materials that are not fire rated and fire resistant.
A lack of land, housing, denial of access to electricity and adequate water are the contributing factors of serious fire hazards in the informal settlements.
According to City of Windhoek Spokesperson Lydia Amutenya , the key intervention to reduce the risk is to formalize the informal settlements and improvement of the socio-economic situation that prevails in such areas although the formalization is an expansive development and can only be address, if funds are available.
“The housing materials catch fire easily, burn faster as a lot of house contents are stored, and the spread is further aided by the uncontrolled structure distances of these dwellings. Furthermore, the topography poses a challenge to both the residents and the emergency responders, as the roads are narrow and or too steep for a fire engine to arrive to their rescue when there are roads, and worst scenario there is literally no access for emergency vehicles. Some community members also call the wrong number as such prolonging the response time of the emergency workers,” Amutenya said.
A Windhoek mother, Hildie Naris, 27, lost her son, Fabiano aged four and her three month old daughter Genesis in June in a shack fire incident. Narrating the events that unfolded on that fateful day at their Katutura home, Naris said she left her children sleeping when she went to her friend, a few meters away from her house.
“My family members were in the main house when my three-year-old nephew, who still cannot properly talk came and directed them to the burning shack. To date, we have not beeb informed of what the actual cause of the fire but we understand a boy from our neighbour’s house accidentally set the shack on fire. When I got here, I could hear my son crying, his sister was already engulfed in fire. I tried to help but the fire was too much and there was nothing I could do to save my babies,” Naris said, holding back tears.
She and the father of her children are currently receiving counseling. The family has since received assistance from church and city of Windhoek municipality as well as city police.
“God gives and he takes. I just want to encourage people going through the same to be strong. Although public members have pledged to support us, they have not done much to assist but my family has been very supportive and I am blessed with wonderful church members whose encouragement has given me hope,” Naris said.
City of Windhoek’s observation on shack fire contributions:
• Leaving pots unattended while cooking indoors
• Failure to put out open flames before going to bed
• Gas and paraffin stoves, which are poorly maintained
• Candles used for lighting
• Illegal Electricity connection (Overloading)
• Wood heating homemade apparatus.
• Arson cases as a result of domestic violence
• Intoxication from alcohol or illegal substance
• Smoking in bed
• Lack of supervision of under aged children or leaving children alone in shack
A total 184 shack fires were reported between July 2018 and July 2019 alone. This year, only two fire fatalities were recorded in Windhoek although hundreds were left homeless.
Amutenya stressed that the Municipality does not compensate fire victims, however certain conditions dictate if one qualifies for the basic humanitarian assistance such as providing of blankets and mattress or a tent. One tent per household may be given for temporary shelter if the affected household consists of ten members or more. It is returnable.
The Fire Chief of the Walvis Bay Municipality, Dennis Basson on his part said that 14 shack fires were reported this year at the town.
“Residents mostly neglect to put stoves and hot appliances off when they leave the shacks and houses. Children in most cases prepare food themselves and it happens that because of the incorrect handling of these appliances, they put the kitchen on fire. We must remember that a shack is an illegal structure and is in the first place not allowed to be used as a place to reside in. Fire personnel are guiding these residents to maintain safety distances between these shacks,” He said.
Meanwhile, City Police Spokesperson Fabian Amukwele cautioned parents to avoid leaving young children unsupervised.
“Parents should at all times ensure that there is a strong supervisory system. City police is now engaging in community policing, where we do follow ups on reported cases, engaging with affected family members and so forth,” Amukwelele said.