The burden of fire is largely carried by emerging nations – 95% of fire deaths and injuries occur in Low- and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs), where death rates are nearly six times higher than in High-Income Countries (HICs).
Little is known about the incidence, impact and causes of fires in LMICs. Fire safety is largely neglected as a policy issue and is often not integrated into wider disaster risk reduction and resilience agendas at the municipal or national levels. Without adequate and locally appropriate social, technical, legal and financial systems to address this extensive risk, fire remains a significant issue.
For centuries, there has been a strong correlation between fire risk and socioeconomic factors. Poor and marginalized people are often exposed to significant fire hazards at their homes and at their places of work. Globally, 1.6 billion people live in inadequate shelter, many in informal settlements, where a single fire can displace up to 15,000 people.
Beyond the immediate risks to life, fire poses a significant threat to property and livelihoods. Poor and marginalized people are particularly vulnerable due to factors such as limited access to healthcare, financial instability, a lack of social and financial safety nets and a lack of tenure. Fire undermines development and perpetuates vicious cycles of poverty, marginalization and hazard exposure and vulnerability.
Recent fires in Moria (Greece) and Cox’s Bazar (Bangladesh) highlight the devastating impacts a fire can have in a refugee camp.
UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, reported there were 79.5 million forcibly displaced persons in 2019 – this figure has almost doubled since 2009. While the majority of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDP) live in cities, others live in camps managed by humanitarian organizations. These UN and non-UN organizations respond to emergencies using an international humanitarian coordination system and international standards. While efforts are made to address fire risks, there are significant gaps in research, guidance and resources to support practical decision making in the field. As a cross-cutting issue, fire requires inter-agency and inter-cluster action and coordination.