At about 11 AM on Tuesday the 13th of January 2015, fire broke out in one of the households in Kataba slum, right next to our offices. It is reported that the fire was started by a charcoal stove which had been left inside one of the households. In a matter of minutes, the fire had spread to the other households and caught an electric pole that was very close to a house nearby .Most of the houses have been constructed under high power voltage lines.
Kataba slum located in Kabalagala, Makindye division is one of the slums that was profiled by National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda supported by ACTogether in 2013.The slum is faced with problems such as poor housing, congestion,lack of access roads, poor sanitation,high population density,poverty and other whole hosts of problems that affect informal settlements .Collecting information in partnership with communities about their needs and priorities is a tenet of the work of the alliance (ACTogether and NSDFU) in Uganda .The information collected in 2013 was analyzed and reports generated, which reports were given back to communities and divisional leaders in all the Kampala Divisions.The reports were also given to KCCA authorities in September 2014 during the launch of the first ever Kampala city forum in an effort to inform planning in Kampala city .
Community mapping of informal settlements was also conducted to capture settlement layout, population size, land and structure ownership patterns , infrastructure ,health patterns among other aspects.A report was later generated after analysis showing the state of open defecation in the informal settlements, population density per acreage, age of the settlement ,majority land tenure, percentage of permanent buildings ,household size, access to toilets, water sources ,time it takes for fire trucks to get in the informal settlements among other areas to be used to inform inclusive planning in these settlements.
Map showing waiting time for a fire truck in Kampala Slums
Relating the fire incident to the importance of sound information from the slums,one cannot help but feel that it is high time to put this information to use.This information is a good starting point while negotiating for the provision of basic services in the slums. Armed with this kind of information,the community will identify priorities that need to be addressed in partnership with the local authority.Here,they will stop being merely beneficiaries of upgrading initiatives but will be active participants in developing their settlements.
When the fire incident occurred in Kataba ,residents tried tirelessly and helplessly to stop the fire by climbing on the roof tops of the surrounding houses,pouring water in buckets but the fire raged on with flames that quickly spread to surrounding houses.Others looked on as they waited for the fire brigade trucks that had been contacted. Several ladies fainted looking on as the fire razed their homes .These were drastic times.
As with the nature of slums everywhere, congestion is a major problem with houses constructed close to each other, facing each other, adjacent to each other and aligned in all directions .As such,the fire truck that had been contacted to salvage what was left of the houses arrived almost an hour after the fire had started but could not do much .It could not access the areas that were already on fire. Almost 45 minutes went by as the community members tried to save their houses with the fire truck present, but stuck .It was only after contacting the fire brigade station to provide a long hosepipe so as to access the houses on fire that the exercise to put out the fire began .The fire was contained after about an additional 40 minutes -but unfortunately, several houses belongings had been burnt to ashes.
This was a very tragic incidence that shows how livelihoods can get negatively impacted by fires in the slums and an issue that needs to be addressed urgently. With the information collected from the slums , solutions can be generated by the government working with communities to specifically respond to this issue of fire outbreaks in slums among others . The community will use the information and become active partners in planning their own development. The alliance is to engage communities more in discussing issues such as this unfortunate Kataba incident and others affecting their settlements in settlement and municipal forums now running in all the five urban authorities of Kampala.
By Anioka Joan and Hellen Nyamweru