The Abu Sefein Church fire incident was a great catastrophe and human tragedy that claimed the lives of 41 people.
The state is also taking serious steps to put in place radical solutions to eradicate this rogue blaze phenomenon. The first of these steps was full transparency and monitoring of this phenomenon through public statistics, identifying its causes, and then placing it in its priorities.
Thus, the numbers are no longer kept secret because the state has realised that confrontation is the only way to eliminate the phenomenon. Excuses have also become a method that does not satisfy the new Egyptian administration. Although fires today are a global phenomenon in which developed countries occupy the first ranks, such a flimsy argument was not mentioned as an excuse because it cannot be accepted by the Egyptian government, which cares about the well-being of its citizens.
With all transparency, the Egyptian state announced that the economic cost of fires in Egypt amounted to EGP 3.6bn over the last ten years, according to the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS). In 2017, the cost of fires was EGP 457.5m, followed by EGP 391.2m in 2018, and EGP 523m in 2019.
In 2017, Egypt witnessed the occurrence of 45,700 fires, followed by 46,323 incidents in 2018 — an increase of 1.5% — and fires continued to rise in 2019, going up to 50,662 — an increase of 9.4%.
2020 had the highest number of incidents, recording 51,960 fires — an increase of 2.6%, according to CAPMAS. Thankfully, in 2021, the number decreased by 0.8% to 51,533 incidents, however, there is much work to be done still.
The most important thing mentioned by official reports and statistics is that negligence was the leading cause of fires at a rate of 49.4% or in 25,029 incidents. This figure is alarming, because it means that the human factor causes nearly half of the fires in Egypt on an annual basis.
The reports indicated that the main causes of fire came from cigarette butts, match sticks, and flammable materials (59.3%); electric shorts and friction sparks (18.5%); self-ignition (10.2%); stoves, ovens, and boilers (6.8%); gas fires (4.4%); and petroleum fires and flammable liquids (0.8%).
The statistics also indicate that Cairo is the leading governorate in terms of fires, constitution 7,114 (14%) of last year’s fires, followed by Alexandria with 3,516 incidents (6.9%), and North Sinai with 72 incidents (0.1%).
Despite that, what is more important than the number of fires is the location of their occurrence, as slums ranked first, followed by unplanned urban areas.
Concerning the slums, the state has actually succeeded in eliminating the most dangerous of them across the country. It is also exerting continuous efforts to eliminate unplanned urban slums, but it is not easy.
This is because these areas have many basic components — such as power lines and sewage networks — but they have very high population densities and suffer from poor planning, especially in streets and roads, and the supposed spacing between their buildings, which sometimes reaches less than two metres — the crux of the problem.
In the event of a fire breaking out in one of those buildings, it becomes difficult to contain it. After all, teams and rescue vehicles cannot enter or reach these areas easily, and thus any small fire turns into a disaster.
This is what happened in the case of the Abu Sefein Church, and the state was very transparent about it, because denying the facts does not negate them, and because the new republic operates with a different mentality based on scientific foundations and monitoring the facts.
In truth, the government alone will not be able to rehabilitate these areas without the help of the people and the support of NGOs and charitable organisations. The societal role here is indispensable.
Therefore — in believing in the importance of the university’s role in raising awareness — I launched an initiative on behalf of Helwan University in which I invite civil and charitable societies to participate shoulder to shoulder with the university’s youths by raising awareness among citizens of how to avoid fires — given that the human element is the most important cause of these fires — and also by contributing financially to providing the necessary and simple tools for fire prevention.
Although this initiative is limited to slums in Helwan, I hope that it will be the cornerstone for a larger series of civil and university initiatives across the country.
I offer my sincere condolences to the families of the victims of the church fire and express everyone’s hope that this tragic incident will be the last of its kind.
* Hatem Sadek is a Professor at Helwan University