The following is an article from our partner and fellow ACT Alliance member, Lutheran World Federation (LWF). Check out the original article on their website here. LWF Myanmar is a country program of the LWF Department for World Service. Since 2009 it has been working with marginalized and disadvantaged communities in the areas of emergency preparedness and response, creating sustainable livelihoods, food security, water, sanitation and hygiene, disaster risk reduction and human rights. Diaconia–CRD began collaborating with LWF in Myanmar in 2014 on their fire prevention program in camps for internally displaced people. Find out more about the work LWF is doing in Myanmar here.
Prevention is the priority of the fire safety volunteers organized by LWF in 21 camps for internally displaced people in Rakhine State’s Sittwe Township, whose residents lost their homes to fire during outbreaks of communal violence in 2012. The longhouses are made of wood, bamboo and thatch. A fire could destroy a dwelling – which holds 8 families – within 15 minutes, according to an officer at the district fire brigade who trained the volunteers.
Officer Aung Min Thaik also estimated that it would take his team in Sittwe town at least 25 minutes to reach most of the IDP camps. Without trained fire-safety volunteers in the camps, a fire would destroy a house before district fire officers could reach it. Even the camps closer to the town, like LWF’s assessment of the camps in July, identified the absence of fire safety as a major concern. Every camp lacked fire prevention and safety equipment as well as residents trained to prevent or respond to fires. LWF moved quickly to fill this critical gap.
Sittwe-based staff began raising awareness of fire safety in August, during the peak of the monsoon season. By October all 20 camps had fire safety points – which include drums of water and fire-fighting equipment – as well as trained volunteers like 29-year-old Ba Thun. The training curriculum was developed by the Sittwe Township Fire Brigade and LWF, with the former conducting two sets of five-day training sessions in October.
“We patrol our camp every evening to look for potential fire risks and explain prevention to residents,” explained Ba Thun, who is also a volunteer teacher at a temporary learning center in Ohn Taw Gyi 5 camp. “Before we started our patrols people did not know what to do if there was a fire. There were risks in every house,” he said.
The main risk was cooking stoves located inside the houses, he and other fire safety volunteers said. Another risk was candles. Because there is no electricity in the camps residents rely on candles for light. Some, especially children, also fall asleep with lit candles in their rooms. Placing lit mosquito coils in places where they could spark a fire is also a risk, fire brigade officer Aung Min Thaik said.
Camp Management Committee Chief U Hla Win said awareness of prevention had risen since the volunteers began educating residents about risks. “We knew that if we didn’t raise awareness there would be fires,” he said. The fire safety campaign has resulted in key changes in behavior, safety volunteers said. All stoves are now placed at the perimeter of the houses. Although still under the roof they are on the ground rather than on the thatched flooring in the rooms. Residents are also more careful to extinguish candles before falling asleep, and they are cautious about where they place mosquito coils, fire safety volunteers said.
Fear of fire remains intense among camp residents. Their homes were destroyed by fire during inter-communal violence in June and October 2012. Daily patrols by fire safety volunteers are helping to replace this fear with fire-prevention know-how. The volunteers work in camps for both groups and are linked to the district fire brigade.