On Monday when Odisha observed Disaster Preparedness Day in remembrance of the 1999 super cyclone havoc, the State Government would have done well to realise it has a ‘fire to fight’. The Asia Pacific Disaster Report 2012, released a few days ago, makes a mention of the State not for the natural disasters such as cyclones or floods, but for the destruction fire mishaps are causing.
Incidence of fire mishaps has reduced in the State but the locations of fire occurrence have spread in the last 30 years.
From just six districts which reported extensive household fire mishaps in 1980-1990, the number has jumped to 15 in 2000-2010, the report revealed and suggested rapid population and economic growth have pushed communities into unsustainable practices.
Stating that more and more people have encroached upon fragile landscapes and are living in vulnerable structures and unsafe congested environments, the APDR 2012 showcased how Odisha confirms the rapidly growing risk of settlement fires in
According to the report, the number of both urban and rural fire events may have declined but their severity has, in fact, increased. Data indicates that there was 27 per cent reduction in the number of fires __ from 1,351 during 1980-90 to 980 during 2000-2010, but during that period, the locations of the fires spread from six to 15 districts.
“It is also significant that while the number of houses destroyed in the last reported decade was less than half of those in 1980-1990, the value of the losses had more than doubled and the number of people affected in the past decade was 60 per cent more,” the report said.
During the decade 1980-1990, the losses caused by fire was estimated at ` 873 million and it has increased to ` 1,603 million during 2000-2010. The number of affected people also rose significantly, from 335,337 in 1980-1990 to 545,547 in 2000-2010.
“It is about time the Government thought on the lines of China and Indonesia where such disasters are targeted systematically. A trigger mechanism must be put in place to address such issues,” said Dr Piyush Ranjan Rout, Urban Planner and Co-Founder of Local Governance Network.
The APDR 2012 also noted the rising population density of Bhubaneswar from 638 people per sq km in 1951 to 6,172 people per sq km in 2011 and its impacts.
The growing urban population resulted in more informal settlements and slum-dwellers with over 350,000 people living in unsafe housing in 377 slums in Bhubaneswar alone.
Most fire incidents occur in these pockets of unplanned human settlements and the causes are often traced to inappropriate housing design, unsafe construction or electrical short circuits. The lack of fire safety measures or enforcement of fire regulations only adds to the problem, the report said.