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Lumkani-Global solution for shack fires?

  -   30. April 2017
Source: pexels/

Within six months 717 shack fires killed 32 people and damaged the houses of 4,000 people only in Cape Town. The company Lumkani deals with a significant problem not only in South Africa but also Worldwide. Informal settlements exist around the world and are home for millions of people. Living in an informal settlement comes along with a major danger which is shack fires. Due to the structural density and a high population shack fires can have a huge negative impact on people’s life. If one shack burns the shacks in the immediate vicinity are likely to burn down as well since they are so close to each other. The homes of many families and all their belongings would be gone and it is a big danger for the residenets. Since fire is used for cooking, lighting and heating the risk of a shack fire is very high. (Eastaugh, 2016)

South African tech start-up and a social enterprise called Lumkani developed a device to solve this worldwide problem. Their vision is “to minimize the loss of life and property caused by fires in slums in South Africa and across the globe.” (Eastaugh, 2016)

The underlying problem

1. 46% of the worlds population is not urbanized

2. In Asia around 30% live in informal settlements

3. In the Caribbean and Latin America around 24%

4. In Africa around 60% (166 Million in sub-Saharan Africa)

5. To total estimated number is around 1 billion people worldwide.

These numbers show that a solution for an early warning system for fires will give safety for a lot of people. But not only safety is the issue also the fire detectors would safe governments, communities and families millions of dollars. (UNhabitat, 2014)

The innovation Lumkani developed

The challenge for the start-up was that a completely new system for smoke detectors is needed since in the cottages lighting, heating and cooking often require open fires. A regular smoke detector would thus be constantly alarming and cannot be used in informal settlements. The approach Lumkani uses is a heat detection technology instead of smoke detection. Their technique is called rate-of-rise of temperature technology. The advantage is that the device is only triggered if there is a rapid and high rise of temperature and is insensitive from smoke which makes sure that the alarm is not triggered when

cooking, heating or lighting with an open fire. In case of a dangerous fire temperatures room temperature rises radically within seconds and the device will be triggered.

Lumkani took it even further and developed a smart system. This idea rose from a comment of a lady living in an informal settlement. She said that “it is as important for me to know about my neighbor’s fire as it is to know about a fire in my home”. All the devices network with all devices within a 60-meter radius. They are constantly communicating using a radio frequency and in case of an alarm within the network every device within the radius of 60-meters’ triggers. In order to differentiate the case of a neighbor’s fire and own fires the device has to different sounds. A long and constant beep means a fire in their own houses and short consecutive beeps signalize a fire in the neighborhood. Furthermore, the device stores GPS data and sends text messages to the affected community. This function allows the affected people to react to the danger before the fire spreads. It also writes text messages to the community members and their vision for the future is to send text messages also to emergency services. (Lumkani, 2017)

What they achieved so far

So far Lumkani was very successful. Since their founding in November 2014 they could distribute 9,000 detectors. After only two weeks after they installed the devices two serious fires were detected and prevented to spread. Furthermore, they won several awards for their innovational start-up. Lumkani not only sells his products to the people directly but also tries to collaborate with governments and NGO´s. In this area, they were also able to record successes. The International Red Cross chose Lumkani as their provider for is Fire Sensors Initiative and with this initiative they distributed 900 devices and did a large-scale market research. (Lumkani & Eastaugh, 2016)

Future perspective

The next step for the start-up is to raise funds and invest this money to conquer the Indian market. A bright future is ahead of Lumkani since they target a huge market with a product that is from substantial need. Millions of people around the world could benefit from the device. Moreover, there is no serious competitor for the South African start-up. Lumkani could make a substantial change worldwide to reduce the number of shack fires.

Who wrote it?

Mona Anthes

Mona Anthes studies at the European Management School in Mainz.  


Annika Amann
09-05-2017 11:55

The development of an early-warning system to reduce the damage and destruction caused by the spread of slum fires in urban informal settlements by Lumkani sounds promising. Lumkani is not only a low-cost fire alarm, but an entire alert system. But that’s not all: I also really like the idea that it connects to other devices within its’ range to create a community-wide response. It will help the whole neighbourhood reacting on time and being able to blow out the fire or call for the fire-brigade. The idea behind Lumkani sounds really promising to me. I personally think that the innovation is a hope-giving invention. We all know that people living in the slums only have little possessions. And losing them must be even more horrifying. Lumkani is an iniative which does not only give hope to people – no – it helps needy people to live a life in their countries that is worthliving. Hopefully they raise enough funds to invest this money to conquer the Indian market.

Lea Rottmann
08-05-2017 12:51

Every year there are news reports of devastating wild fires destroying forests, natural habitats and the homes of thousands of people. Lumkani is a device that not only informs and signalizes when a fire breaks out, but really contributes to saving peoples lives by warning them in time. Ensuring safety for people, who unfortunately have to live in poor and informal settlements should be one of the top priorities. I recently travelled to South Africa and Cape Town myself and visited such an informal settlement. It was truly shocking to see how many people live on such small space. Additionally, I learned that South Africa has serious problems with water shortage and therefore shack fires in slums probably could mean loss or even death for the inhabitants. Necessary water or fire extinguishing equipment probably wouldn’t reach the scene of accident in time. Having witnessed one wild fire in South Africa from afar, I was shocked at the force of fire and the impact it has on nature. With the issue of Global Warming at the back of one’s mind, the dangers of wild or shack fires and water shortage worldwide are increasing. In my opinion, Lumkani is a device that has great future potential and is an innovation worth investing in. After all, human life is all that truly matters.

Carolin Wolf
07-05-2017 15:48

Hey Mona, I think this kind of fire detector is a new way of helping millions of people to get alarmed by shack fires. I wasn’t aware of the fact that a “normal” fire detector would constantly be alarming while people are cooking over open fireplaces. A “normal” fire detector would not help anybody when installing them in slums or informal settlements. I never thought about the idea of such different kind of fire detector and I am surprised that there was someone who invented that perfect innovation. Due to the fact that almost the half of the world’s population is not urbanized, Lumkani should have been invented so much earlier to save millions of people’s homes. I like the way how Lumkani was developed. I like that Lukani works with heat detection technology instead of the common smoke detection. Now people can cook, heat and light with an open fire without being alarmed by a detector. But the very best of this innovation is, that the whole neighborhood in the slums, shacks or informal settlements within a 60-meter radius get alarmed if there is really a dangerous fire.

Jil Becker
06-05-2017 20:20

You wrote about a really impressive social enterprise that seeks to address the challenge of slum fires in urban informal settlements in South Africa and across the globe. It seems to be Lumkani has developed a revolutionary early-warning system to reduce the damage and destruction caused by the spread of shack fires. With the help of this innovation Lumkani definitely creates social impact by increasing the safety and security of people living in these affected areas. Apart from the social aspect it is interesting that lumkani virtually has no competitor in this field. In my opinion, an innovation that can improve the quality of life of many people should be supported. I'm curious to see if they ever come up with such a glorious idea!

Tabea Arnold
06-05-2017 00:02

Starting with these shocking facts made me want to read more about the company. It is extremely interesting how Lumbaki innovated in a smoke detector with such a simple idea. Helping the poorest people all over the world also with the help of the government is not only a great innovation but also a great help for the people and their life’s. This is the first time I heard about this great innovation, which will make the life of millions or even billions of people a little safer. However, this is not going to be a cheap solution and the future of Lumbaki depends heavily on government aid.

Moritz Wellershaus
05-05-2017 12:07

Lumkani helps people in South Africa, which live in slums under hard conditions anyway, not to loose everything by a fire caused by open flames they must depend on. The heat detector, not smoke detector, fits perfectly to the slum areas since cooking or other open fires cause smoke and would set of an alarm every few minutes. The Lumkani device only sends a signal, a long beep, with rapid temperature changes inside a home. This innovative idea is well thought through and made for high flammable and closely side-by-side built slum houses. The community idea of being warned about neighborhood fires is exactly as important as knowing that your home is on fire. The SMS function, sent to the whole community, makes it more likely to get control over the flames and through that save more lives and property. The GPS information that can be sent to a fire department can also stop the danger from becoming a disaster, since the fire is handled with quicker. I believe that Lumkani is also transferable to other places, for example to other slums or refugee camps that also work with open flames and are narrowly built. Or even in London there are old houses (highly flammable) built so close to each other that when a fire breaks out it does not take long until it spreads through the whole quarter. So yes, I think Lumkani is a global solution for shack fires.

Julia Herrhammer
04-05-2017 23:21

Hey Mona, it is greatly shocking that so many people are affected with shack fires, I mean 717 within only six month? Furthermore, was not aware of the fact that people are living in informal settlements or unurbanized which implies, as you have already mentioned, many dangers. As those people mostly have to cook inside their house without a proper ventilation or windows it is already pretty innovative that the alarm only goes on when there is a rapid rise of temperature and not if there is for instance ‘only’ smoke of cooking. This sounds like a remedy to me! The feature of informing the citizens also if there is a fire in the neighborhood helps them to act early enough to be able to blow out the fire or if time call emergency. I greatly support the spreading of this device for all people around the world who are in need of it!

Clara Brilmayer
01-05-2017 19:21

This is an innovation, I fortunately did not have to think about yet. Of course, the majority of the households in Germany have a fire-detector, but I would not have come up with the idea for a special fire-detector, that also alarms you in case of a fire in your neighborhood. Considering the figures mentioned above, there is obvisiously all around the world a need for this innovation. As there are already existing alarms for earthquakes in concerned regions, why should not there be an alarm when a shack in your neighborhood is burning? To use the heat detection technology instead of smoke detection is simple and at the same time brilliant. The next project, to develop a function which informs emergency services in case of a shack fire, is probably only a few steps from here. As Mona already said, Lumkani has big potential to expand in all different parts of the world, where people unfortunately have to live in informal settlements and live with the daily danger of being burned. Lumkani already proved, that their product works and got the deserved acknownledgment by winning many awards as well as being the provider of the international red cross. What a great recognition for a great life-saving innovation!



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