According to the Paraffin Safety Association, about 40,000 households are affected by paraffin-related fires each year. Even more horrifying is the fact that almost half of these households experience more than one fire a year. Most of the victims are children, with burns killing more children between the ages of one and four than any other unnatural cause.
Manufacturing standards are at the heart of this national scandal, as independent tests show that none of the nine most popular paraffin stoves sold in South Africa meet the SA Bureau of Standards’ recommended minimum standards.
The Paraffin Safety Association says it is busy lobbying government to make these basic safety standards mandatory. Regional programme co-ordinator for the association, Mpume Jiji, says the problem of unsafe stoves is made worse by their use in informal structures built on rough ground and made of highly combustible material like wood and plastics. This environment can quickly turn a household accident into a major disaster. The association has organised a stove-design competition and will be putting the best designs through laboratory testing. "The purpose of the competition is not only to identify a safer alternative paraffin stove design," says Jiji, "but also to set new standards for paraffin stoves in South Africa."
"The most important task of the association will be to overcome the apathy that abounds about paraffin safety. The only effective way to do this is to create awareness of the issues and consequences, and to inform people about what can be done.
"It’s a lesson that the Treatment Action Committee [lobbying for state-provided anti-retroviral treatment] has taught us. By going public, rather than working behind the scenes, and mobilizing widespread public support, we will be able to give voice to all those people who have no alternative but to rely on paraffin for cooking and heating," says Jiji.
Over 40% of South Africans use paraffin for some part of their domestic energy requirements.
Mpume Jiji, Paraffin Safety Association of Southern Africa: Tel
(March 2005 Edition of Consumer Fair)