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This simple technology may help prevent slum fires

  • Published at 01:07 am March 10th, 2019
The Lumkani heat detector is being installed in slums across Dhaka, as a low-cost alternative to traditional smoke detectorsSyed Zakir Hossain
The Lumkani heat detector is being installed in slums across Dhaka, as a low-cost alternative to traditional smoke detectors Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

According to the Fire Service, some 17,000 fire incidents take place in a year on average in Bangladesh

Situations can rapidly turn calamitous and cause numerous casualties and losses when fires erupt in densely populated areas or slums in Bangladesh.

To prevent these incidents, an early warning fire alarm system, "Lumkani," is being used as a fire detector in the slums of Dhaka.

This low-cost device, connected to each other and a central watchtower via network, is a heat detector, unlike traditional detectors which respond to smoke. Lumkani’s makers, a South African social enterprise, say this is owing to the fact that slum dwellers often use lighting and cooking methods that produce smoke.

According to the Department of Fire Service and Civil Defence, some 17,000 fire incidents took place in a year on average while around 2% of all fires were in slums across the country.

Within one week, 71 people died in the devastating fire of Old Dhaka's Chawkbazar, and around 500 houses were burned down by the Jahangir slum fire in Bhashantek of Mirpur. Previously, Mohakhali's Korail slum also had an onslaught of fire incidents several times.

Across the world, one person in ten, currently lives in a slum. With the global urban population estimated to expand by 2.5 billion people over the next 25 years, this number is only likely to grow. Every day, people living in slums face a deadly risk to their health and safety.

The combination of houses built closely together, with dangerous electrical connections, and open flames used for heating and cooking, creates perfect conditions for quickly spreading fires.

Considering these dangers, World Vision International, Bangladesh, is bringing Lumkani to two slums of Dhaka: Korail and Kallyanpur.

Small but effective

On January 18, a signal came from a house of Korail slum, with a GPS notice to the World Vision Fire Signal Watch Tower. After that, the monitoring team informed the slum's community by text message, which was stored in their data, about the signal.

Over phone, slum dwellers said the signal was not because of the fire. Food for a wedding ceremony was being cooked in that area, and the device gave a signal by detecting a rise in temperature that was above normal.

Whenever a fire is detected, an alarm will go off from all devices within a 40 metre radius. Warnings will be sent via SMS around the community and fire services will automatically be notified with GPS coordinates of the area.

All of this allows for a rapid community response that saves lives and properties, World Vision Bangladesh said.

Under the project, ‘Urban Slum Fire Readiness,’ this private organization bought the device from South Africa.

Lumkani is the world’s first fire detection system designed specifically for urban slums. The system detects fires in slums by measuring the rapid rise in temperature and sends out a warning to other local devices, which are networked by radio frequency, project Manager Fatema Meherunnessa said.

“As slum dwellers are not alert during a fire, considering all this we launched a pilot program in June 2017 and about four thousand Lumkani devices were installed in 2,100 houses in Kallyanpur, and 2,000 houses in Korail,” she said.

Future plan

World Vision will run this pilot program until June 2019.  Their target is to install this device in slum areas across the country. However, when the project ends, they want it to be distributed through government sponsorship or other companies, because the device is quite expensive as it is bought from Africa.

Fatema said the project's proposal was to bring the latest version of this innovative system to highly vulnerable urban communities in Asia, beginning with Dhaka of Bangladesh, home to 3.6 million people living in closely packed areas.

Major AKM Shakil Nawaz, director (Operation and Maintenance) of Fire Service and Civil Defence, said this technology may warn people about a fire.  However, first the awareness of people in the slums about fires is necessary.

He said: "Last month, seven people of the same family died in Chittagong because they locked themselves inside the house to protect themselves and slept. If these techniques are useful in such cases, the number of dead might decrease."

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