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EDITORIAL: Nabua Fire A Matter Of Urgency For Relevant Authorities

EDITORIAL: Nabua Fire A Matter Of Urgency For Relevant Authorities
Fireman trying to put out a fire that destroyed seven flats in Nabua Fiji Muslim League squatter settlement on October 18, 2017. Photo: Ronald Kumar.
October 20
10:17 2017

We commend all those who went to donate items to the fire victims of a Nabua informal settlement yesterday.

They heeded our call for help in the spirit of Diwali.

While  their assistance and compassion are appreciated, the settlement and similar ones around the country need an even bigger help.

This is the second similar fire in the same settlement. The first was in June last year. So far no one has been injured or killed.

They might be not so lucky in the next fire.

What if it happens at night when movement is restricted and people are asleep.

One obvious problem in this settlement and others is the closeness of the houses. Many of these structures are not safe anyway. They were hastily and poorly built as cheap temporary accommodation. They are regarded as a stepping stone to better housing. The occupants have remained because they could not find better alternative housing they can afford.

It’s a wonder how these squatters are able to get electricity and water. One would expect proper documentation to be able to get access to these basic amenities. The documentation would have fixed address (own or rental property).

The  connection of electrical wiring as it snakes its way into the settlement is mind boggling. We can only hope they were done by certified electricians for safety reasons.

But the biggest concern is the fire and health risk.

In the latest fire, a three-year-old toddler has been blamed for starting the fire by accident. The fire quickly spread to adjacent structures and by the time it was brought under control, seven houses had been destroyed. Luckily there were no reports of injury or death.

But this is a disaster waiting to happen again with more tragic consequences until something is done to eliminate the dangers.

This squatter problem has been there for a long time since Independence. It’s been given lip service by previous governments. This has led to the proliferation of new informal settlements and the rapid expansion of the existing ones.

To the credit of this Government, it has embarked on an ambitious project to allocate land leases for squatters. This would enable squatters to build a house they would call home and use their leased land as security for bank loans to start income generating projects. That’s an on-going exercise and it’s going to take time to address the plight of every squatter. After the first fire in June last year Government had started talks with the squatters to relocate them. The squatters should be happy to hear that the Ministry of Local Government will move in to help fire victims.

Minister for Local Government, Urban Development, Housing and Environment Parveen Bala said they would provide temporary housing for them and render assistance where needed.

He said Fiji Muslim League had confirmed it would give the Government 10 acres of land to subdivide for the squatters to relocate to.

For the time being, this is an opportune time for the relevant authorities to go in and work out a strategy on how to prevent similar fires in future. This is a matter of urgency.



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