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Fire Risk and Vulnerability in Urban Informal Settlements in Metro Manila

Rini, Darlene LU (2018) VBRM15 20181
Division of Risk Management and Societal Safety
Abstract
Urban fires, particularly in informal settlements in rapidly urbanizing cities in the developing world, are an “everyday disaster” that oftentimes goes unnoticed or
under-served in the face of disturbances of the more “lethal reputation”. These disturbances of normal existence are arguably the most debilitating to vulnerable communities and sustainable development, and yet get little attention in disaster literature or in practice. This thesis set out to highlight the significance of
informal settlement fires as part of the overall urban fire problem, and further the understanding of the complex, multi-dimensional, aspects of informal settlements as they relate to urban fire risk and holistic management of urban disasters in a... (More)
Urban fires, particularly in informal settlements in rapidly urbanizing cities in the developing world, are an “everyday disaster” that oftentimes goes unnoticed or
under-served in the face of disturbances of the more “lethal reputation”. These disturbances of normal existence are arguably the most debilitating to vulnerable communities and sustainable development, and yet get little attention in disaster literature or in practice. This thesis set out to highlight the significance of
informal settlement fires as part of the overall urban fire problem, and further the understanding of the complex, multi-dimensional, aspects of informal settlements as they relate to urban fire risk and holistic management of urban disasters in a resource-limited environment (in this case Metro Manila). Living conditions in slums are characterized by acute poverty, overcrowding, substandard housing, high levels of un- or under-employment, deficient/insufficient basic services (e.g. water, sanitation), and widespread social, spatial, economic and legal exclusions. Fires in these communities are a daily reality that have short term, but primarily long-term devastating impacts that perpetuate the cycle of poverty and societal inequities. Several theories and quantitative, socio-technical analyses were explored in the context of Quezon City to piece together a complex
understanding of IS fires and to better inform decision-makers in developing more comprehensive and sustainable urban disaster risk reduction strategies. The aim is to bring the urban fire problem into the overall disaster risk and sustainable development discourse, such that effective, locally relevant interventions target those in greatest need. (Less)
Popular Abstract
Rapid Urbanization Sets Developing Cities on Fire

Every year, tens of thousands of people are killed, injured and have lost their homes and livelihoods due to the impacts of fire in the ”forgotten places” of the developing world. Fires in slums (a.k.a. informal settlements, barrios, favelas, shanty towns, etc.) of rapidly developing cities in low- and middle-income countries, are an “everyday disaster” that oftentimes goes unnoticed or underreported in the face of hazards of the more “lethal reputation” (e.g. earthquakes, typhoons, tsunamis). A single event, even if minor, can not only have significant direct physical impacts (casualties, loss of property, loss of finances), but also major secondary impacts to health, the environment,... (More)
Rapid Urbanization Sets Developing Cities on Fire

Every year, tens of thousands of people are killed, injured and have lost their homes and livelihoods due to the impacts of fire in the ”forgotten places” of the developing world. Fires in slums (a.k.a. informal settlements, barrios, favelas, shanty towns, etc.) of rapidly developing cities in low- and middle-income countries, are an “everyday disaster” that oftentimes goes unnoticed or underreported in the face of hazards of the more “lethal reputation” (e.g. earthquakes, typhoons, tsunamis). A single event, even if minor, can not only have significant direct physical impacts (casualties, loss of property, loss of finances), but also major secondary impacts to health, the environment, social structures and local economies. And, as the tyranny of fire incidents reoccur year after year, the cycle of poverty, societal inequities and vulnerabilities to future disasters are further perpetuated. It may be the unexceptional tragedy for those of lower economic and political circumstances that influences the optics of what constitutes a “disaster” or whether everyday fire devastation is worth noticing.

This thesis attempts to bring the urban fire problem into the overall disaster risk and sustainable development discourse through the lens of urban informal settlement (IS) fires and the complex, multi-dimensional aspects of fire risk that extend beyond technical physical vulnerabilities of slums, to the numerous underlying socio-economic and political issues that serve to perpetuate fire vulnerabilities in a rapidly urbanizing city in the developing world (in this case Metro Manila). By their nature, IS communities lack codified fire safety provisions (e.g. firefighting water supplies, appropriate construction materials and practices, sufficient means of egress, fire vehicle and personal access lanes/corridors, fire separations, safe lighting/cooking systems). They also suffer from varying degrees of exclusion to resources – such as capital (e.g. water, sanitation), social (e.g. support networks, social cohesion, knowledge, skills), legal (e.g. land tenure rights), physical (e.g. lack of sufficient living area, housing durability, high density, assets) and (e.g. insurance, work contracts). This complex, multi-dimensionality presents many direct fire risks, but also indirect long-term development risks from socio-economic vulnerabilities that arguably are more debilitating.

Despite these obvious informal settlement fire risks, little research has been undertaken locally to not only better understand this complex problem but also better inform comprehensive disaster risk management strategies. Internationally, literature on slum fires from either a technical fire- and/or social-perspective is also quite limited and/or often context specific. Thus, an explorative approach was used to not only understand the general fire problem in the Philippines, but also to gain a complex understanding from a socio-technical perspective to better inform more comprehensive, locally relevant and sustainable urban disaster risk reduction strategies. This was undertaken using a combination of quantitative methods that were pragmatically driven by availability of data, existing local disaster risk management strategies and capacities for knowledge transfer/absorption. This was supported by some qualitative methods (i.e. interviews with government officials and IS residents) to gain local insights, perceptions, behaviors and attitudes.

The results show that urban fires are the most frequent and second most devastating hazard with respect to annual deaths and economic losses between 2010-2014 in the Philippines. Of these fires, ISs are a significant portion of the problem, comprising 23% of all recorded fires and 71% of all severe fires (i.e. 5th Alarm and greater) and 89% of all residential fires in a case study of Quezon City. Informal settlers are 2.37x more likely to experience a fire compared to formal city dwellers and are more likely to become injured and/or die due to a fire incident. While correlations to socio-economic characteristics can help target fire vulnerable communities, quality and availability of city-wide data for IS areas is limited given the “informal” and illegal nature of these communities. This means that accurate, quantitative conclusions about the specific socio-economic or physical factors that contribute to fire risk of different IS typologies, let alone between IS and formal society cannot currently be assessed from top-down quantitative approaches. That said, current city management strategies (such as urban disaster risk indexing/mapping) could be better informed using “hot spot” mapping of high fire concentration areas. This approach could be further enhanced in future research by integrating qualitative methods (e.g. interviews, focus group discussions with IS dwellers), as well as, other bottom up initiatives (i.e. community based participatory methods, “citizen science”, etc.). (Less)
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author
Rini, Darlene LU
supervisor
organization
course
VBRM15 20181
year
type
H2 - Master's Degree (Two Years)
subject
keywords
Urban fire risks, informal settlement fires, urban fire risk management, GIS, URDI, urban disasters, risk indexing, fire statistics, Metro Manila, Quezon City
language
English
id
8962068
date added to LUP
2018-10-18 11:48:34
date last changed
2018-10-18 11:48:34
@misc{8962068,
  abstract     = {Urban fires, particularly in informal settlements in rapidly urbanizing cities in the developing world, are an “everyday disaster” that oftentimes goes unnoticed or 
under-served in the face of disturbances of the more “lethal reputation”. These disturbances of normal existence are arguably the most debilitating to vulnerable communities and sustainable development, and yet get little attention in disaster literature or in practice. This thesis set out to highlight the significance of 
informal settlement fires as part of the overall urban fire problem, and further the understanding of the complex, multi-dimensional, aspects of informal settlements as they relate to urban fire risk and holistic management of urban disasters in a resource-limited environment (in this case Metro Manila). Living conditions in slums are characterized by acute poverty, overcrowding, substandard housing, high levels of un- or under-employment, deficient/insufficient basic services (e.g. water, sanitation), and widespread social, spatial, economic and legal exclusions. Fires in these communities are a daily reality that have short term, but primarily long-term devastating impacts that perpetuate the cycle of poverty and societal inequities. Several theories and quantitative, socio-technical analyses were explored in the context of Quezon City to piece together a complex
understanding of IS fires and to better inform decision-makers in developing more comprehensive and sustainable urban disaster risk reduction strategies. The aim is to bring the urban fire problem into the overall disaster risk and sustainable development discourse, such that effective, locally relevant interventions target those in greatest need.},
  author       = {Rini, Darlene},
  keyword      = {Urban fire risks,informal settlement fires,urban fire risk management,GIS,URDI,urban disasters,risk indexing,fire statistics,Metro Manila,Quezon City},
  language     = {eng},
  note         = {Student Paper},
  title        = {Fire Risk and Vulnerability in Urban Informal Settlements in Metro Manila},
  year         = {2018},
}