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Grenfell Disaster Could Happen Again Due to 'Crowded, Unequal Cities': Report

A disaster on the same scale as the Grenfell Tower fire could happen again in the UK, according to a new report warning of the dangers of “deep-seated societal and institutional stresses.”

The report, released by Muslim Aid on Tuesday in the run-up to the one-year anniversary of the Grenfell fire, said that the Grenfell disaster demonstrates that “the most deprived in society are hardest hit in emergencies…in our own backyard.” 

“While the precise circumstances may prove unique, the disaster also highlighted deep-seated societal and institutional stresses,” it read. “Factors that exacerbated the crisis are common to other disasters, in both the developed and the developing world.”

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The report also warned that, “with the effects of climate change, the threat of terror attacks, and high levels of inequality in the UK, there are good grounds to believe that large-scale disasters are becoming increasingly likely; that marginalised communities will suffer disproportionately; and that the bodies charged with responding will often be ill-equipped to do so.”

“All of this suggests that the lessons of Grenfell should be learnt quickly,” it said. 

The fire, which broke out at around 1 a.m. on June 14, 2017, killed 72 people. 

“This was the deadliest structural fire in the UK for more than 70 years; dozens of people died, thousands more were traumatised and hundreds made homeless,” read the report, which also praised the “sheer number of volunteers who descended on the area, and people’s generosity in donating both goods and money."

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“It would be easy to dismiss Grenfell as a one-off, compounded by the failings of a particularly flawed local authority but there are aspects that could play out again,” it said. 

It continued that, of the many issues that Grenfell highlights, one significant issue is “the inherent risks of life in crowded, unequal cities.” 

And, with cities all over the world expanding, this is likely to be an issue that will only become more evident. 

In Britain, all of our major cities are growing and, globally, the majority of the world’s 7 billion people are already living in cities. 

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According to the latest UN estimations, the world’s population is predicted to grow by 2.9 billion people — more than the population of China and India combined — in the next 33 years. 

By then, according to the UN, we’ll be almost exclusively urban, with up to 90% of us living in cities. 

As well as the most obvious problems with city life, such as traffic congestion, poor air quality, waste production, and loneliness, this is also expected to contribute to increasing inequality — an issue that has been highlighted within the Kensington and Chelsea borough, home to Grenfell. 

“Today, the [Kensington and Chelsea] borough is one of the wealthiest in the country, with the highest median income of £140,000 in the UK,” reads the report, “but it is also one of the most unequal with the highest levels of income inequality and of differentials in life expectancy in the entire country.” 

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According to the 2015 Index for Deprivation, cited in the report, the Lancaster West neighbourhood — which Grenfell Tower is part of — is among the 10% most deprived in England. High levels of child poverty, health deprivation, and overcrowding all contribute to such a statistic. 

Many commentators have also highlighted what Peter Herbert, the founder of BMELawyers4Grenfell, described on the "Today" programme as a “race dynamic."

“These were not only people who lived in social housing in a tower block and so on the margins of society in London, but also they were a large proportion for minority and diverse communities,” he said, reported the BBC

The Muslim Aid report also highlighted the importance of taking context into account with emergency response, specifically in urban areas.

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“Emergency responses in highly heterogenous inner-city areas like North Kensington need to take local contexts into account,” it read. “Disaster response systems, behaviours, and interventions all need to be tailored to specific local socio-economic and cultural dynamics in the short and longer term.” 

The Kensington and Chelsea council told the BBC that it wasn’t appropriate to comment on the Muslim Aid report, given that a public inquiry into the fire is ongoing.  

“It is our responsibility to ensure that the whole, unvarnished trust is told so that lessons can be learned and to ensure that such a tragedy can never happen again,” said a spokesperson for the council. “We will work with the inquiry to ensure this happens.”

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For the first seven days of the inquiry, individual commemorative tributes have been made to all those who died in the fire, with the tributes concluding on Wednesday. 

The first week has seen families and friends speak heartbreakingly and often harrowingly about their loved ones and how they were lost.  

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