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Construction boom adding fuel to the fire

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Locals in Mondulkiri province’s Sen Monorom town struggle to put out a fire that tore through the provincial capital last year. POST PIX

Construction boom adding fuel to the fire

The government needs to further invest in fire disaster management as the Kingdom enjoys a multi-billion-dollar boom in the construction industry, a fire prevention expert said.

As high-rises continue to mushroom in the capital, fire disaster management may not be properly equipped to respond to the growth, which could potentially cost the economy millions of dollars.

There were 514 cases of fire across the Kingdom in 2017, and 553 last year, a National Police Commission report said. Fire incidents numbered 315 in the first six months of this year – up 18.18 per cent compared to the same period last year.

In an interview with The Post earlier this month, Association of Fire Prevention Enterprises of Cambodia (AFPE) vice-president Andrew Wallace said economic growth had been driving the Kingdom’s construction sector.

However, he said fire disasters have resulted in economic losses during the sector’s boom.

“Newer and larger buildings see less of an impact [from fires] as they are equipped with a better fire management system. But, older ones face a lot of problems because of the [large number of] adjacent buildings and accessibility for rescue teams is very narrow,” he said.

In developed countries, he said, homes and buildings were all equipped with fire safety systems, allowing for easier rescue operations.

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Cambodian labourers work in the rain on a high-rise building construction site in Sihanoukville. SUN RETHY KUN/AFP

“When a fire breaks out [here], it’s difficult to stop it. If we have fire equipment [installed] in each building, it will greatly reduce property damage and loss of life.”

While the authorities need to improve their fire control capacities, educating people on initial prevention measures is essential, Wallace said.

“In cooperation with the Ministry of Interior, AFPE has developed and introduced national standards for a fire safety code to educate builders and building owners on fire prevention,” he said.

He said the association has promoted the National Fire Safety Systems Code through five workshops attended by engineers, architects and builders.

The new code will see that every new building has a fire safety system installed, he said.

In August, a mattress factory in Stung Meanchey district was destroyed in a fire estimated to have caused damage worth millions of dollars, though no official assessment has been conducted.

A 2018 report from the Insurance Association of Cambodia said the industry generated $196.4 million in gross premium at the end of last year, up from $151.6 million in 2017.

The premium came from life, auto, property, fire, and personal and health insurance. Premiums are projected to hit $260 million this year, the report said. However, it did not contain figures on insurance claims from fires.

Wallace said growth in the construction sector has also buoyed demand for fire protection equipment, mostly in large, newly built buildings.

“We want to encourage Cambodians to take fire safety into consideration,” he said.

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