Fires Continue to Claim the Lives of IDPs in Mareb

Many victims reside in highly flammable tents
Ishaq Al-Hemyary
May 1, 2024

Fires Continue to Claim the Lives of IDPs in Mareb

Many victims reside in highly flammable tents
Ishaq Al-Hemyary
May 1, 2024

"I left the gas on to cook food and went to my neighbor's house, and suddenly the fire ignited in my 'tent'," says Um Mohammed, a woman in her thirties who lives in one of the displacement camps in Marib, eastern Yemen.

This mother felt panic, as she told "Khuyut," because her two children were sleeping inside the "tent." She hurried back, trying to save them, but unfortunately, they suffered severe burns due to the fire that engulfed the "tent" while they were asleep. The boy suffered burns on his hand, while the girl suffered from suffocation due to the thick smoke, which caused her significant psychological trauma that she still lives with.

Um Mohammed lives with her children in the Al-Ma'il camp, which is one of the largest camps, hosting hundreds of displaced families in Mareb province.

Moreover, Um Mohammed emphasizes that she rushed to take her children to the nearest health facility in the camp to receive initial medical treatment. However, she had lost her only shelter, as she did not have any other place to go. She calls on the relevant authorities and international organizations to assist displaced people in building better and safer housing options than the tents, which are considered worrisome and unsafe due to their highly flammable materials.

Marib province in eastern Yemen has become a hub for displaced individuals due to the prolonged war and conflict in the country. The province has opened its doors to accommodate hundreds of thousands of people who have been forced to flee their homes. These displaced individuals have sought refuge in around 200 camps scattered throughout the province and its surrounding areas. Tragically, the living conditions in these camps pose significant risks, particularly in terms of fire hazards. The camps are often constructed with makeshift materials, including highly flammable substances, making them susceptible to frequent fires. These fires have resulted in numerous casualties among the already vulnerable and displaced population.

Recurring fires and numerous casualties

The Director of the Executive Unit for Internally Displaced Persons in Marib, Saif Muthanna, explains in a statement to "Khayat" that the recurring fires in the IDP camps occur due to several contributing factors. One of these factors is the excessive influx of people into the camps, where a large number of displaced individuals are hosted in limited spaces, increasing the likelihood of fire incidents.

Additionally, there are unsafe living conditions in the camps, as highly flammable fuels are used inside the tents for cooking and heating purposes. This exposes the residents to fire hazards, especially if caution and awareness about the dangers of using such materials are not exercised.

Furthermore, Saif Muthanna points out the issue of haphazard electrical connections in the camps, which further increases the possibility of fires due to electrical malfunctions. Moreover, the tents, primarily made of petroleum-based fabric materials, are highly flammable, which enhances the risk of ignition and rapid spread of fires.

Therefore, Saif Muthanna emphasizes the importance of raising awareness about fire risks and providing safer living conditions for the displaced individuals. It is crucial to focus on improving the infrastructure of the camps, including the provision of safe construction materials and the implementation of necessary safety measures. Additionally, promoting awareness about the importance of using safe heating and cooking methods, as well as avoiding haphazard electrical connections, is essential. These steps will contribute to reducing fire incidents and protecting the lives of the displaced individuals in the camps.

The Executive Unit for Internally Displaced Persons in Marib recorded approximately 501 fire incidents in the camps from 2020 until the end of 2023. These incidents resulted in the deaths of 31 individuals, including children, and 64 injuries. Among these, there were 66 fire incidents that caused the deaths of 5 individuals, including children, and injured 12 others. In the year 2021, there were 102 fire incidents that resulted in 6 fatalities, including children, and injured 11 others. In the year 2022, there were approximately 114 fire incidents that led to the deaths of 14 individuals, including children. 

During the past year, 2023, there was a significant increase in the number of fires that occurred in the IDP camps in Marib, reaching approximately 219 fire incidents that resulted in the deaths of 6 individuals and the injury of 22 others.

Based on field studies conducted in this regard, one of the main causes of these fires is the lack of awareness among both the citizens and the displaced individuals in the camps. Cooking areas are often placed inside "tents," and children are left unattended, which increases the risk of fire incidents.

Muthanna explains the role of the Executive Unit for Internally Displaced Persons, which includes coordinating with organizations and providing emergency assistance such as first aid, distributing essential supplies like food and drink, and providing temporary shelter for the affected individuals. The amount of aid provided depends on the available capacity and resources. 

The causes of fires in approximately 200 camps in the province, which host 73% of the total displaced population in Yemen, are varied. Muthanna added that the fires last year had several reasons. There were 116 cases recorded due to haphazard electrical connections, 93 cases resulting from using tents as kitchens, around 9 cases due to fire spreading to the tents, and a single case resulting from the explosion of household gas cylinders.

Some relevant entities like the "Executive Unit" have taken the initiative to provide a set of recommendations to humanitarian partners and international organizations to reduce fires in IDP camps. These recommendations include activating fire risk awareness programs, replacing temporary shelters with more durable ones, ensuring the safe maintenance and electrical connections, activating emergency hotlines, and supporting civil defense with firefighting equipment and tools.

Confrontation through awareness and training

In the same context, numerous initiatives, institutions, and local organizations have worked together to organize a campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of fire accidents and how to prevent them.

Salah Al-Ghanmi, the campaign's official and project manager at Marib Foundation, an NGO, stated, "We launched a campaign called 'Extinguish' in partnership with the Civil Center in Conflict (Yousefco) with the aim of reducing the spread of fires and minimizing their damages. The campaign aims to protect displaced civilians and host communities from fires. It also includes organizing various activities to raise community awareness about fire prevention methods.

In addition to coordinating efforts between relevant government entities and civil society organizations, the campaign seeks to establish a mechanism for prompt emergency response regarding fire incidents. It also includes a range of awareness and media activities and events.

Al-Ghanmi points out a significant increase in the rate of fires and a rise in the number of casualties. He attributes the main causes of these fires, based on field studies conducted in this regard, to a lack of awareness among both citizens and displaced individuals in the camps. Cooking areas are often placed inside "tents," and children are left unattended, unaware that the tents are highly flammable. Additionally, the use of candles without properly extinguishing them before leaving the area can lead to accidents where they fall and cause fires inside the tents.

Confronting these fires requires intensifying awareness programs and continuous training, as well as equipping camp workers and volunteer teams with the knowledge of how to handle fires and administer first aid.

In conclusion, it is imperative that the relevant authorities and international organizations prioritize the safety and well-being of the displaced individuals residing in these camps. Efforts should be made to improve the living conditions by providing more secure and durable housing options, reducing the risk of fires, and ensuring the availability of adequate firefighting equipment and emergency response services. The protection and support of the displaced population should be a top priority to alleviate their suffering and provide them with a sense of security and stability in these challenging times.

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