Shack fires plague Windhoek’s informal settlements

By Paulina Ndalikokule

THE City of Windhoek’s fire brigade department recorded over 140 fire incidents in the capital’s informal settlements since January. A further 439 cases were reported in Windhoek from January to November.

Last month about 21 shacks reportedly burned down while the city as a whole recorded 52 fire incidents. Nineteen shacks burned down in August and another 19 in June, while July and September each saw 12 incidents. In February the least number of incidents (six) were reported in informal settlements.

Some residents Confidente spoke to said some of the reasons for shack fires are lack of serviced land, lack of proper housing, lack of access to electricity, lack of adequate water supply and lack of adequate emergency services.

“When you do not have electricity you resort to the traditional methods of doing things, like using gas to cook and use candles for light, because we do not have electricity,” a resident of Havana, Lydia Uugwanga said.

Immanuel Shikongo said some residents become victims of fires that spread from one shack to another since they are built close to one another. “Sometimes we residents are also to be blamed that we get too drunk then we decide to cook and forget and you go sleep, so when your shack burns it affects two or three more because they are close to each other and emergency [services] do not come on time.”

According to City of Windhoek station officer Lukas Hatutale most fire incidents were experienced in Zone 2, which has a high population density of unemployed and people living in poverty, making the living out of a basic life of using traditional methods for daily activities.

“Zone 2 is mostly made up of unregistered informal settlements, such as Eehambo Dha Nehale, 8ste Laan, 7de Laan, Ounongouye, Ondelitotela, Ongulumbashe 1&2, Havana illegal (Peter Nanyemba), Okahandja Park, Havana (Cuba), Onyika, Kilimanjaro, Havana illegal (Brendan Simbwaye),” he said.

Hatutale said there is also a high rate of substance abuse in these areas, which have been considered most vulnerable to all types of risks within the zone. He said providing information on fire hazards have also proven to be a major challenge, including the risks of cooking with gas bottles and on open flames, lighting candles and paraffin lamps, electrical short circuits, arson and illegal electricity connections.

“Sometimes informal settlements community members try to extinguish the fire on their own, but when they realize that they are unable to extinguish it, they resort to the emergency services a little too late.”

Hatutale said Windhoek has five fire stations with one in Babylon informal settlement, at headquarters of the Fire Station in the Northern Industrial Area, Otjomuise Fire Station, Khomasdal and Diaz Fire Station in Suiderhof.

He said the City council has approved new fire stations to be built in Windhoek, including two in formal settlements in Havana and Groot Aub, Olympia and Klein Windhoek.

Hatutale further advised people to keep away from their homes the open flames, to avoid candle fires, keep at least three metres distance between informal dwellings and keep matches away from children. In case of fire emergencies, residents can call 061-211 111 for rapid response.