Fires in Informal Settlements- IRIS Fire project

According to the latest records, there is a huge growth in the number of people living in the informal settlements in our world. Approximately,  25% of our urban population live in informal settlements. The informal settlements can be described as the residential areas where there is a lack of the governmental infrastructure and services (ex. drinking water, waste recollection, energy, low structural quality and overcrowding).



As everything else in these residential areas, fires are also considerably different than the normal residential fires. In the last few years, there has been massive fire accidents which totally destroyed a lot of these informal shacks. Currently, there has been some awareness regarding the importance of studying such a massive fire engineering problem.

With 1.4 Million GB Pounds grand from the Global Challenges Research Fund, a research team from the University of Edinburgh’s school of Engineering and the school of social and political science is going to study the fire safety in the informal settlements. The team from the university of Edinburgh will work closely with a team from  Stellenbosch University in South Africa to tackle the Informal settlements fires’ problem in Cape Town, SA. As an IMFSE graduate I was definitely interested in joining this team and investigate this interesting engineering problem. Based on that, I applied to do my PhD at the university of Edinburgh and work on this project for my PhD thesis.

[A video shared by the school of engineering at the university of Edinburgh to present the project :  ]

What captured my attention to this project was that more than one billion people live in the informal settlements around the world and also back in my region this is an urgent problem. The number of the informal settlements’ population is vastly increasing every year.  The main goal of such project will be to put hands on some innovative solutions to decrease the impact of the fire hazards on the informal settlements.



As a PhD student, I will be working under the supervision of Dr. David Rush and Dr. Stephen Welch from the engineering school and with the guidance of Dr. Graham Spinardi from the social and political science school to touch upon the social aspects of the problem as well as the main aspect which is the fire safety. Additionally, there will be a direct cooperation with Dr. Richard Walls from Stellenbosch University in South Africa.

Generally speaking, the research project will focus on the informal settlements in Cape Town South Africa (which is known as fire capital of South Africa). Statistically speaking, in Cape Town only there was an informal settlements’ fire almost every day around the year, there are approximately 500 fatalities and more than 10 000 hospital appointments related to fires per year, which raises the importance to scientifically investigate the problem.

The informal settlements’ fire is one of the most complex fires to study; it is a very fertile place for large and lethal fires to spread. In this project, the team will be exploring and studying the phenomena that govern the spread of fires. The project should end up with some valuable data and founding to enhance our abilities to model and evaluate the fires in the informal settlements.

The team will also study the sociological changes needed to enhance the fire safety knowledge and culture to improve the settlements’ resistance to fires. Even though this project will be built up based on the case in Cape Town, however, it will be applicable to other cases around the globe.

All in all, the Improving Resilience for Informal Settlements – Fire (IRIS – fire) project will develop and innovative -up to date- experimental and modeling fire safety engineering tools, based on the data gathered from the informal settlements in Cape Town, in addition to satellite data. It should recommend some practical and effective clarification of the problem itself and create innovative plans to enhance the fire resilience of the informal settlements.

To get an idea about how the fires in the informal settlements looks like, you can check these videos:





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