Fire risk reduction on the margins of an urbanising world

David Rush, Lesley Gibson, Greg Bankoff, Sarah Jane Cooper Knock, Richard Walls, John Twigg, Laura Hirst, Steve Jordan, John Spinardi

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


It is estimated more than 150,000 people die from fires or burn-related injuries every year. Over 95% of fire deaths and burn injuries are in low- and middle-income countries. Meanwhile, urban growth is said to be one of the 21st century’s most transformative trends, posing massive sustainability challenges in terms of housing, infrastructure and basic services, amongst others. Low-income countries have seen a 300% increase in the overall area of built-up spaces and a 176% increase in population in the past 40 years.

This paper focuses on the risks posed to residents within informal settlements and refugee camps, two spaces that are a testament to the fact that risk reflects structural patterns of oppression and marginalisation. The authors introduce these two forms of space before exploring three case studies that emphasise the importance of international, national and local factors in shaping fire risk in informal settlements in New Delhi, India; Cape Town, South Africa; and in refugee camps across Lebanon.

Urban fires, particularly those in informal and low-income settlements, have been shown to be a significant extensive risk, created by a complex interaction of political, economic, socio-cultural, and physical or technical factors. Yet urban fires are still relatively invisible and neglected in disaster management policy and practice. This neglect is due in large part to the lack of accurate, consistent and comprehensive data on fire incidence and causal factors; partly to the lack of formal fire management capabilities and resources; and partly because tackling fire in a comprehensive manner would require a political response from all levels of government, led by community needs and interests. Both communities and fire services must play integral roles in mitigating fire risk.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationGlobal Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction 2019
Place of PublicationGeneva, Switzerland
PublisherUnited Nations, New York
ISBN (Electronic)978-92-1-004180-5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2019


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