Proximity of shacks a fire hazard
By Mathias Haufiku
WINDHOEK -The formalisation of informal settlements in Windhoek should be considered if the outbreak of fires in such areas is to be reduced, says Chief of Emergency Management in the Community Services Department of the Windhoek Municipality, Raymond Kapia.
During an interview with New Era on Monday, Kapia said the formalisation of informal areas would subsequently provide the much-needed safe distance between dwellings to prevent the spread of shack fires from one dwelling to another.
“This will ensure that fires do not spread from one house to the other. It is important that normal town planning principles are applied in the city, that way we can reduce all risks associated with informal settlement areas,” said Kapia.
Members of the public often accuse the emergency department of taking too long to attend to fire emergencies, to which Kapia responded: ““Residents, especially in the informal areas, claim we sometimes take too long to attend to fire outbreaks, but we must remember that it is very difficult for us to find the precise area where the fire has occurred because most of the informal areas do not have street names. Many a time residents first attempt to fight the fire themselves, and after realizing that they cannot handle it, only then do they alert us.” He said normally informal areas do not have basic services and infrastructure, which impinges on the swiftness of the emergency service to reach these areas on time if there is an inferno.
“The services required are road infrastructure, water reticulation for fire hydrants, area demarcation and street mapping. The lack of such services and infrastructure greatly hampers adequate emergency response to informal settlement areas,” he said. He said most fire outbreaks across the city are caused by human factors that are avoidable.
“It is either people go to their homes while under the influence of alcohol and fall asleep while the candle is burning, or they fight and one decides to burn the other’s shack,” he explained. Windhoek currently has four fire stations in operation – the main fire station in Sheffield Street, Windhoek North; the Otjomuise satellite dispatch centre; the fire station in Diaz Street, Suiderhof; and the Maxuilili satellite dispatch centre in Tauno Hatuikulipi Street, Babylon that covers informal settlement areas.
New Era understands the temporary satellite dispatch centre in Diaz Street, Suiderhof, which currently caters for a huge area that includes the Southern Industria, Prosperita and suburbs such as Olympia, Academia, Auasblick, Kleine Kuppe, Pioneers Park, Cimbebasia and some parts of the CBD will be relocated to the planned fire station in Stadium Street in Olympia once it is constructed.
The Windhoek City Council in 2004 took a resolution to build three fire stations across the city. The three fire stations had to be built in Stadium Street [Olympia], Otjomuise Street [Otjomuise] and Stein Street [Olympia]. Due to financial constraints, the municipality managed only to build the fire station in Otjomuise while the next one is planned in Stadium Street, Olympia.
Any fire station that will be built, said Kapia, should be strategically located so that it can cover all areas within the city’s jurisdiction, especially the industrial, commercial and informal settlement areas. “This is the only way we can keep our response to any emergency situation within the 10-minute response time.”