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Syrian camps without fire protection equipment

A fire in al-Sadaqa camp in the northern countryside of Idlib - May 17, 2020 (Enab Baladi / Youssef Gharibi)

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Collecting what was left of from the fire while looking for their identification documents and their hardly saved money, al-Sadaqa camp refugees hope to find what brings them comfort in this ordeal. Yet, the flames destroyed almost everything and burned about 60 tents in al-Sadaqa camp, located in the countryside of Aleppo, on 16 of last month.

The director of al-Sadaqa camp, Ahmed Nassouh, told Enab Baladi, that IDPs were forced to spend the night in the open and eat what people offered them because they had nowhere to sleep since they have lost their tents and most of their belongings.

Meantime, many organizations provided food baskets, tents and compensations for them.

Camp refugees tried to use certain tools to extinguish the fire; however, due to various reasons they failed to limit it from spreading before the firefighters’ arrival.

Al-Sadaqa camp, like many other camps northwestern Syria, lacks any sort of equipment to extinguish fires. Consequently, this leads to more fire incidents within these camps, especially in summertime with the rise of temperatures.

In the past 45 days, about 16 fire incidents took place in camp areas, such as Jisr al-Shughour, the surrounding areas of Idlib as well as border regions. Meantime, the Director of the “Syria’s Response Coordination Group”, Muhammad Hallaj told Enab Baladi that the damage in the camp ranged from minor to major.

Absence of equipment and convergence between tents incite fires

Many refugees inside “al-Sadaqa” camp, whom Enab Baladi interviewed, said that they lack protection fire equipment, while no seminars or sessions were held on how to deal with such incidents and fight them inside IDPs camps. They also talked about the absence of a specialized team to limit fire spread in case they occurred.

Most of these fires occur as a result of smuggling gas cylinders into camps or through a small fire in a tent which burst quickly into flames and spreads later in other tents because of their plastic nature. In addition to the extreme heat inside tents particularly in summer, where temperature reaches its highest. All this coupled with tents being close to each other, thus making the flames spread easy.

Concerning “al-Sadaqa” camp, the delayed arrival of Syrian Civil Defense teams and firefighters due of rugged roads has led to more losses.

In his talk to Enab Baladi, Muhammad Hallaj, explained that fires inside camps occur throughout the year and that the main causes are; misuse of flammable substances such as cooking gas, corrosion in the gas hose used for cooking or sometimes as result to children being close from fireplaces. While in winter, the reason behind these fires is mostly related to heating materials bearing in mind that IDPs’ tents are primarily made of plastic or fabric insulators which both constitute highly flammable materials.

In case there is a fire, Syrian Civil Defense teams move towards the fire scene to extinguish it. Yet, there are no centers adequately distributed near these camps, except for those within the camps but they lack sufficient equipment

One of the organizations launched a campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of fires in Atme town, but it is not enough with the large numbers of camps, according to Hallaj. Meantime, compensation distributions to those effected by the fires is proceeding slowly.

The majority of IDPs northern Syria lack basic humanitarian needs, as “Syria’s Response Coordination Group” estimated deficit in those needs in opposition held-areas northwestern Syria, by 64 percent in food security sector, 82 percent in the water sector, 79 percent within the Health and nutrition sector and 88 percent in education sector.

A Rapid Needs Assessment (RNA) published by the “reliefweb” platform on 12 last April, based on the United Nations (UN) statistics, showed that 49 % of communities (IDPs and residents) consume three meals a day, while most people residing in areas such as Atme, Afrin and Kafar Roma eat only once a day.

The number of IDPs living in camps, who fled Hama, Aleppo and Idlib due to the military campaigns launched by the regime forces and Russian troops seeking safer areas, has reached 1 million and 41 thousand people distributed over one thousands and 227 camps. Meantime, more than 184 thousand people live in 366 random camps, according to documentations by “Syria’s Response Coordination Group”.

Solutions

Muhammad Hallaj said it is difficult to prevent the occurrence of these fires as long as the housing structure of tents is typically basic. For his part, Hallaj thinks that the alternative solution would be cement houses and opening the way for pre-built houses. He explained that replacing tents by cement buildings reduce fire occurrence by 80 percent.

Hallaj added that using cement will reduce poisoning cases and will constitute a good alternative in freezing weather, storms and floods, because “tents are a temporary solution that should come to an end as soon as possible.” As he put it.


Yousef Gharibi, Enab Baladi correspondent, contributed in the preparation of this article

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