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What you can do to stop building collapse

Wednesday, October 5, 2011 - 00:00 -- BY FRANCIS GICHUHI

In
recent years we have had several buildings collapse in Kenya. Here is a
chronicle of most notable events: January 2006 – a building collapses in
Nairobi CBD, Ronald Ngala Street; October 2009 – a building collapses in Kiambu
town; January 2010 – another building collapses still in Kiambu town; June 2011
– a building collapses in Embakasi; still in June, another collapses at Langata
Southern by-pass.

In
July 2011, a building collapses in Ngara, Nairobi; in September, Matigari
Building in Mathare North, off Thika road collapses; and still in September,
another collapses in Luanda, Vihiga County, killing several people. From
the above images and dates, it’s clear that as time progresses, more buildings
are collapsing – death traps that are also causing huge financial losses to the
economy.

Local gov’t responsibility

The
world over, local governments are tasked with ensuring the safety of the built
environment. All building plans must be approved by the local authority before
construction commences and must be designed by qualified architects and
engineers.

They’re
also responsible for issuing a certificate of occupation after ensuring that a
building is constructed to the required standards by qualified professionals.

Notably
around the world, countries with proper-functioning local government arms such
as in the U.S.A and New Zealand record fewer casualties and damage to property whenever
disasters such as earthquakes strike. The converse is true. Remember that such
disasters don’t kill people, but buildings with questionable structural
integrity do.

Your role as a citizen

You
have a role as a citizen to check whether buildings in your neighbourhood have
structural integrity. You can do this as follows. Visit
construction sites to check if a public notice board is erected listing the
professionals involved and the local authority approval number. Local authorities
also post on their notice boards lists of approved buildings as this is
important for public cross-checking. Also check whether the contractor is
registered with the Public Works ministry.

The Kenya Bureau of Standards

KEBS
has the responsibility of ensuring that the materials used in construction are
of the required standards. All construction materials must have genuine
approval stamps from KEBS. It should also come up with quality standards for
materials like steel and sand. Evidently
therefore, the solution to ensuring structural integrity of buildings in Kenya
is right here with us. The Architects and Engineers necessary to ensure this in
Kenya are available.

The ball is in your court

It’s
all a matter of citizens walking the extra mile to ensure rules are followed;
that the standards body does its part and the local authorities do not sleep on
the job. With
the ongoing judicial reforms also, you have the option – hopefully as a last
resort – to seek the intervention of the courts to compel the local authorities
and KEBS to play their roles effectively.

Arch. Gichuhi practices with a4architect. Visit www.a4architect.com for additional details.