Fire prevention at Asser Al-Kasara [Archives:2004/781/Community]

October 14 2004

By Peter Willems
Yemen Times Staff

Since a devastating fire ripped through Asser Al-Kasara in Sana'a destroying a large part of the community early last summer, a number of steps have been taken to prevent fires in the future.
Under the supervision of Care International, a new electrical system has been completed in the small area occupied by a Yemeni group commonly called “Akhdam.”
Installing the electrical network has been a priority to Care. The fire that broke out on June 6th not only destroyed 64 shanties, but also the entire electrical system. People used candles and oil lamps, which in a small area overcrowded with 114 shanties and 64 tents could easily cause a fire. It is reported that other small fires have broken out since the crisis in June.
“The fire wiped out electricity in the whole area,” said Adam Taylor-Awny, Care's Program Technical Advisor in Sana'a. “After the fire, no one had electricity and they were using oil lamps and candles. One of the most important aspects of electricity is fire prevention. The fact that there is electricity as opposed to oil lamps and candles is that it is much safer.”
The electricity project began three weeks ago, and according to Taylor-Awny, it has been completed and every household now has electrical power. Next week, Care will hand over the task of overlooking the electrical network to Sahaba, an NGO run by people from the social group and involved in Community Empowerment Project which is covering three communities in Sana'a.
Care took another step to prevent fires in Asser Al-Kasara by distributing 15 fire extinguishers to the community and three bags full of sand to each shanty or tent. Twenty-five people in the area have been trained to use the fire extinguishers, while sandbags can be used to put out a fire before it spreads out of a household.
The fire last June left 650 people homeless. The Yemeni military provided tents to replace the small dwellings of over 60 families. Care was able to secure a $20,000 emergency fund and coordinated the efforts of a number of aid agencies to provide basic necessities, such as food, water, clothing, blankets and toilets.
But beyond dealing with an emergency, the group in Asser Al-Kasara and many other similar communities in Sana'a and in other parts of the country, are still facing a number of difficulties. The majority of the group, considered to be the lowest social class, lives in extreme poverty. The most common form of employment is street cleaning and collecting garbage. Begging by women and children is widespread, with reports on the group showing that many children under the age of 12 work, mostly for begging.
Most of the group live in isolated communities, separate from the rest of society and in need of sanitation facilities, better education and health care.
“In the end, even though all of this has been done after the fire, so much more needs to be done,” said Taylor-Awny. “This includes living conditions, sanitation, integration into society, education and health. Emergency aid was not very difficult; setting up electricity is a tangible thing that is easy to do. It is not like soft development, such as an attitude change, social issues and the whole cycle of poverty. Providing electricity and fire prevention does not lift them out of the cycle of poverty nor change education and health, and so forth.”