First Graduate of RADAR MPhil in Disaster Risk Science and Development at Stellenbosch University

Original article posted by Stellenbosch university news here

Alberto Francioli, a staff member of the Research Alliance for Disaster and Risk Reduction (RADAR), on Thursday (22 March 2018) graduated with the first-ever MPhil in Disaster Risk Science and Development at Stellenbosch University (SU).  Francioli, who is also a volunteer firefighter, received his degree at the fifth ceremony of SU's 2018 March graduation. His supervisor was Dr Robin Pharoah from RADAR.

Francioli's study set out to identify the energy sources being used by low-income households in Lwandle, Nomzamo and Asanda Village in Somerset West and Strand. In particular, he wanted to investigate whether residents continue to frequently employ dangerous non-electric energy sources such as candles, paraffin and even firewood despite the access to electricity. Francioli says the aim was to determine the factors influencing these choices, the implications these energy choices have for fire risk, as well as the measures households employ to mitigate the risk of fire.

He held focus group sessions with residents and also used a household survey to collect information on household energy use strategies, perceptions of safety and accessibility of energy sources and experiences of energy related fires from residents living in different types of dwellings. 

Francioli points out that approximately 67.2% of households make use of energy stacking i.e. they alternate between electricity and paraffin to meet their daily energy needs. 

“A potential consequence of this energy stacking approach is that the majority of households continue to face the risk of a dwelling fire caused by non-electric energy sources."

“Unsurprisingly, fires in areas such as Lwandle, Nomzamo and Asanda Village have been attributed to the usage of unsafe and potentially hazardous forms of energy such as candles for lighting, paraffin for cooking and boiling water and firewood for heating of dwellings. It has often been prescribed that key to curbing dwelling fires among low-income residential areas is to increase people's access to electricity."

However, Francioli's research also found that dwelling fires caused by electric sources also appears to be on the rise, particularly among formal households and their backyard dwellings situated on their property.

“Fires in informal settlements are very costly to low-income families and cause massive destruction in their lives." 

Francioli says some households in these informal settlements continue to use paraffin and fire wood because electricity is too expensive.

“While electricity is the predominant energy source used, households may be unable to fully utilise it because of financial constraints or issues regarding physically accessibility to and quality of electrical connections."

“Sometimes for very large households it is cheaper to use paraffin to cook and to provide heating in winter." 

Francioli points out that despite being frequently exposed to many potentially hazardous electric and non-electric energy sources, many households do implement a number of measures to mitigate to reduce their exposure and mitigate the risk of experiencing a dwelling fire.

“These included, among others, the use of a minimum of electrical appliances simultaneously, to avoid over loading of electrical connections (i.e. overheating or creating sparks which can ignite nearby flammable materials); ensuring when using non-electrical energy sources such as paraffin or candles they are placed away from other flammable materials and constantly supervised; keeping young children away from non-electric energy sources (in case they knock them over or play with them), educating them about the dangers of such energy sources and how to use them in a safe and proper way; and keeping constant vigilance for signs of fire or impending fire in their own home as well as their neighbours."

Commenting on the significance of his degree, Francioli says disaster risk is an incredibly important subject.

“It's a crucial and multidisciplinary field that can be applied to agriculture, infrastructure, transport, urban planning, even economics and psychology and a whole realm of possibilities. Hopefully, more people will hear about and become interested in disaster risk as a subject because it's about safeguarding us against the possibility of future disasters." 

Francioli says he plans to publish his findings in academic journals.

For more information on RADAR's Mphil and other academic programmes, please follow this link here


Photo: Alberto Francioli with his degree.

Photographer: Anton Jordaan

  • RADAR was established at SU in 2013, building on 17 years of applied disaster risk scholarship by its predecessor, the Disaster Mitigation for Sustainable Livelihoods Programme (DiMP). RADAR's research, teaching, policy advocacy and community outreach efforts emphasise urban risks, as well as hydrometeorological threats and fire. RADAR is also part of a consortium of 12 Universities across Africa, Periperi U (Partners Enhancing Resilience for People Exposed to Risk), which focus on enhancing research and building capacity through academic programmes in the field of disaster risk. 


Alberto Francioli

Research Alliance for Disaster and Risk Reduction (RADAR)

Stellenbosch University

Tel: 021 808 9401

Cell: 084 208 1870


                   ISSUED BY

Martin Viljoen

Manager: Media

Corporate Communications

Stellenbosch University

Tel: 021 808 4921


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