By Zali Chikuba
The announcement of the development of a national fire and rescue service policy and procurement of 42 fire tenders by the Minister of Local Government, Honourable Vincent Mwale carried in the July 18, 2017 edition of the Zambia Daily Mail should be soothing to many.
The announcement came 14 days after an economically distressing fire gutted the Lusaka City Market and when the nation needed public safety reassurance against such fire occurrences. Currently, Zambia has no fire and rescue service policy to direct fire management at national level resulting in piece-meal interventions and unsatisfactory outcomes. While the procurement of fire tenders is presumably a step in the right direction, much more still remains to be done in order to comprehensively impact the nation’s ability to manage its fire risk.
To comprehensively manage fire conditions as a nation, Zambia needs to invest in more than fire tenders. There is therefore, need to invest in training of more professional and auxiliary firefighters, procurement of personal protective equipment for these firefighters to effectively carry out their duties, and in increasing their overall capacity to undertake inspection of public facilities for compliance with existing fire standards, among others. Determination of the required levels of investment in fire management should however be informed by public policy direction, size of economy, populations and strategic importance of the specific regions, inter alia. This gives prominence to the resolve by the Ministry of Local Government (MLG) to develop a national fire and rescue services policy.
In view of the above, MLG engaged the services of the Zambia Institute for Policy Analysis and Research (ZIPAR) to spearhead the process of formulating the fire and rescue services policy for Zambia. ZIPAR is currently on the ground in 6 provinces conducting key informant interviews, consultative conferences, and focus group discussions, having already completed the documentary analysis. They are also using their visits to the provinces to acquaint themselves with the various fire management systems there. Through these activities, the ZIPAR research team is interacting with a wide range of both state and non-state actors.
Key issues emerging from the consultations so far include; the constraining institutional framework where fire management is at section level in the administration both at council and ministry level, the absence of parent legislation for fire management in general and the legal frameworks for volunteer and community participation. The other concerns raised include; insufficient fire management apparatus, inadequate staffing of fire brigades, highly centralized fire administration, and most importantly the weak support infrastructure such as emergency water supply and emergency road lanes.
Evidence also shows a rising trend of fire occurrences in Zambia alongside the growing economy and population. Conversely, the capacity to manage such fires has not increased in tandem. In fact, there has been a deterioration of fire and rescue service provision resulting in extensive damages and loss whenever fires of certain magnitude occur. Further, the declaration of all councils as fire authorities has not helped either as that declaration has not taken into account these councils’ respective resource bases. In some newly created districts, the capacity to manage fire is almost non-existent, and yet these are in their own right fire authorities. Often, they have limited capacities to finance meaningful establishment of fire brigades.
Resolving the above issues may require making drastic changes to the management and governance of fire and rescue services in the country with hindsight of the limited resource base. ZIPAR is thus optimistic that the country will have a fully-fledged fire and rescue service policy that responds to the identified problems and is forward looking by the end of the year as stated by the Minister.
The primary data collection process is expected to wrap-up soon and it is anticipated that a national consultative conference to validate the First Draft fire and Rescue Services policy will be held sometime in September. The current efforts by MLG to develop a fire and rescue services policy, in addition to the alluded procurement of fire tenders, should therefore be supported by all stakeholders.