Carvajal: Missing the mark badly

Break Point

WHAT do “Fire Prevention” and “Zero Open Defecation” programs have in common? Plenty, but these can be reduced to two glaring standouts.

First, both programs essentially address problems of low-income families who live in houses that are not only made of light combustible materials but also built close to each other in informal settlement (does the euphemism help?) areas that are usually without provision for roads, drainage, and most importantly running water.

No statistics are needed for one to figure out it’s here where fires and unsanitary conditions are most destructive and which, therefore, hard-hitting fire prevention and sanitation programs should target. Fire prevention and zero open defecation programs are not intended for hotels, commercial establishments and high-end residences that can afford their own fire prevention measures and sanitary (body) waste disposal facilities.

Thus, the question boils down to: How do you prevent people from having faulty electrical connections that often cause fires? Worse still, how do you prevent the poor families from using candles or gas lamps when they cannot afford electricity? And how do you encourage people to keep from defecating in the open when they cannot afford a water-sealed toilet or don’t even have the basic amenity of running water?

It’s almost trite to say poverty is the problem, yet the truth stares us in the face that as long as people are not provided with decent housing in well-planned and well-managed (as in with roads, drainage and running water) settlement sites, fires and disease will continue to devastate marginal communities.

That brings up the second standout commonality. For failure to recognize poverty as the root of fire and open defecation problems, both programs are missing their mark by a mile.

You can have all kinds of fire prevention programs year in and year out and all kinds of zero open defecation programs, but if people live in make-shift houses close to each other and can afford only candles and gas lamps, how exactly will you prevent fires in these places? Definitely not with posters and educational materials, the go-to preventive measures of these campaigns.

The best fire prevention, the best sanitation programs have to do with providing the usual victims of fire and disease with decent housing in well-managed relocation areas that have provisions for well-laid out roads, drainage and running water.

On the basis of that logic, both fire prevention and zero open defecation programs do not have the right strategy. That’s the main reason both programs are missing their mark badly and fires, open defecation, and their dire consequences will continue to devastate poor communities.


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