Cipla Medpro 'Ajuga' to address South Africa's shack fire crisis

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According to reports, over the last five years, there are on average 10 shack fires a day in South Africa. In Cape Town alone there are more than 100 deaths resulting from shack fires every year, with one of the worst informal settlement fires in the history of Cape Town having occurred in Khayelitsha in early 2013, burning more than a 1 000 shacks to the ground. During December and January this year, the number of people made homeless by shack fires amounts to nearly 5 200.
 
“Shack fires are becoming prevalent throughout the country as shack settlements grow. As a result, increasing numbers of dwelling units are built using highly flammable substances such as wood, cardboard and plastic and are built in close proximity of each other. 
 
“With limited services and infrastructure, and no safety controls in place, impulsive and fast spreading conflagrations are a constant threat. Often, fire safety is compromised as many people in our country cannot afford safe energy sources and appliances,” says David Grier of the Cipla Foundation, which is run under the auspices of Cipla Medpro, South Africa’s third largest pharmaceutical company.
To address the growing shack fire crisis in informal settlements, Cipla Medpro last night launched Ajuga – a project that will see fire-resistant structures and crèches installed in informal settlements. The event, held near Stellenbosch, saw an Ajuga structure set alight, which demonstrated the project’s effectiveness at combatting and containing fires. 
 
“By replacing crèches with fire resistant structures, this initiative ensures that if there is a fire outbreak, the most vulnerable people of the community will be protected. With this initiative, we can also provide children with a place of safety and improve the conditions in which they are schooled,” says Grier.
 
Grier explains that the Ajuga unit is one of the most unique and effective fire-resistant structures available, as it is made from patented steel and fire retardant panels, which have been fire-tested to 1 000 degrees. “The house takes one day to assemble, is fitted with standard windows and doors and services such as water and electricity can be installed.”
 
Grier, who designed the Ajuga structure, says that together with Operation Smile, Cipla Medpro has for many years been involved in raising funds for corrective surgeries for children born with cleft lips and palates. “During the Miles for Smiles initiatives, we noticed the rapid increase of children being admitted with serious burn wounds and that is when we decided to investigate the causes around this. When we saw the shocking devastation caused by shack fires, we could not walk away.”

“Ajuga aims to build relationships with communities, corporate South Africa and individuals to show that we care and live our slogan "we’ll make it better". We will work with Non-Profit Organisations (NPO’s) and community leaders in informal settlements to identify vulnerable crèches that are in need of being replaced. We encourage companies and the nation at large to ignite hope in these communities by sponsoring crèches to address this growing issue,” says Cipla Medpro’s marketing director, Rynard van der Westhuizen.
 
Earlier in February this year, the Cipla Foundation sponsored the first two Ajuga structures that replaced crèches in the informal settlement of Du Noon in Cape Town. This forms part of a phase where logistics (including working with NPO’s and the community) will be tested and finalised to ensure a smooth roll out process in the future.
 
“Currently we import the main wall component for the units. However, there is a plan to have a local manufacturing facility up and running within the next five months, to contribute to growing the local economy, and increase the production levels of these structures,” says Grier.
 
For more information on Ajuga, to get involved in this project, or to apply for an Ajuga crèche, please visit www.ajuga.co.za
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