Appraisal of fire safety interventions and strategies for informal settlements in South Africa

Richard Shaun Walls, Rodney Eksteen, Charles Kahanji, Antonio Cicione

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: Informal settlements are inherently unstructured in nature, lack adequate services, regularly have high population densities and can experience social problems. Thus, fires can easily propagate rapidly through such areas, leaving thousands homeless in a single fire. The purpose of this paper is to present an appraisal of various interventions and strategies to improve fire safety in informal settlements in South Africa (globally, similar settlements are known as slums, ghettos, favelas, shantytowns, etc.), considering aspects of both technical suitability and social suitability. Design/methodology/approach: This paper focusses on three specific aspects: ignition risk management, active fire protection interventions and passive fire protection interventions. These are presented within a framework to outline how they may mitigate the impact of fires. Findings: Often “solutions” proposed to improve fire safety either lack a sound engineering basis, thus becoming technically inefficient, or do not consider social circumstances and community responses in settlements, thereby becoming practically, socially or economically unsuitable. It must be understood that there is no “quick fix” to this significant problem, but rather a combination of interventions can improve fire safety in general. A broad understanding of the various options available is essential when addressing this problem, which this paper seeks to provide. Practical implications: This paper seeks to provide an overview to guide policymakers and organisations by illustrating both the advantages/benefits and disadvantages/challenges of the interventions and strategies currently being rolled out, as well as potential alternatives. Originality/value: A broad but succinct appraisal is provided that gives insight and direction for improving fire safety in informal settlements. It is hoped that the challenges associated with the fire safety interventions discussed can be addressed and improved over time.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)343-358
Number of pages16
JournalDisaster Prevention and Management: an international journal
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 9 May 2019
Externally publishedYes


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