Source: Financial Express
The instances of fires and other emergency incidents have drastically increased in India’s bustling capital city, Delhi. While the population has grown by 21.20 percent, there have been 85 percent more cases of fires and other emergency situations since 2001. Between 1991 and 2011, Delhi’s terrain underwent a significant shift from rural to urban. Over the years, the rural area shrunk from 797.66 to 369.35 sq. km and has increasingly been acquired for housing and other construction purposes. Delhi has an urban area of 1,113.65 sq. km and about 97.50% of the population of Delhi lives in urban areas. The number of urbanized villages has increased from 20 in 1961 to 135 in 2011 and census towns have increased from 03 in 1971 to 110 in 2011. The overall population density of Delhi has increased from 9,340 persons per sq. km in 2001 to 11,297 persons per sq km in 2011.
Due to this unregulated immigration of people to Delhi, many new human settlements have developed in an unplanned manner in unauthorized residential colonies which lack civic infrastructure and resources for sustenance. These colonies are densely populated and with their increasing consumption of resources, waste generation from these settlements has increased manifold. The fire risk in these areas of Delhi has been greatly increased by this subpar settlement planning, a lack of implementation of fire protection policies, clustered housing, the use of flammable materials in building construction, narrow approach roads by-lanes, a lack of water supply, inappropriate use of electricity, gas, and fuel, and overloaded electrical installations. The issue becomes quite complicated and offers a very high risk to the life and property of the settlements. Only when facilities are planned, built, outfitted, maintained, and operated with the goal of protecting the lives and property of their occupants, will the size of the issue be decreased. Ideally, no structure or building should be created before it has the necessary infrastructure in place to safeguard against fire and explosion, as well as to endure natural disasters like earthquakes and lightning but unfortunately, increased urban expansion has prevented such planned implementation.
The most effective method for assessing fire safety standards is a safety audit. The entire process is aimed toward the identification of health and safety risks, evaluation of the efficiency of control mechanisms, and confirmation of adherence to Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) requirements. Independent audit experts carry out safety audits to make sure that safety management systems, policies, and practices are examined objectively. Within the structures of high-rise buildings, though the procedure for the issue of audits has been simplified by government authorities, still it lacks sustained checks and transparency measures. A robust mechanism to ensure proper maintenance and infrastructure management is needed to ensure the efficacy of the safety mechanisms. This system of risk analysis is surely a necessary tool for fire prevention, but when it comes to unplanned settlements which lack even the basic amenities, having appropriate infrastructure for managing fire accidents would be no less than a miracle.
The focus should be on mitigating fire occurrences instead. In light of these instances, the impending disaster of climate change must be brought to notice. Within 2022 only, there have been recurring instances of fires at landfill sites in Delhi and these fires further contribute to air pollution. The shift in environmental cycles has contributed to this havoc and the effect has been continuing. Heat waves are becoming a common phenomenon these days in the capital. Rising temperatures lead to quicker moisture evaporation from the ground, drying out the soil, and making the already vulnerable waste dumps more flammable. At the same time, winter snowpacks and glaciers are melting much faster, implying drier seasons for longer periods of time. The widespread urban areas thus need regulated systems for dumping waste and infrastructure for fire management.
The majority of the migrating people that contribute to the urban expansion belong to rural backgrounds having modest knowledge on awareness of fire hazards, fire preventive measures, and fire-resistant construction. It becomes a responsibility of the government and other public authorities to work on fire risk management. The main aspects and difficulties emergency service departments confront today are fire risk management and mitigation. For urban fire risk management, a system that supports planning, readiness, mitigation, response, and incident management is extremely desirable. The results of a fire risk assessment enable emergency management staff to decide on early response priorities by anticipating potential fire hazard regions, vulnerable individuals, and valuable items. Such fire risk assessments are essential for mitigation and preparedness, as well as emergency response planning.
Besides, awareness amongst the citizens must be generated regarding climate change and its deleterious effects. Efforts to reduce fossil fuel emissions and switch to cleaner fuels should be undertaken to facilitate the usage of clean energy. It is with these collaborative solutions that fire emergencies can be stalled and better infrastructure to support the increasing population can be put to use.
Research Intern at CPRG