The hand of graft in collapsed buildings

Monday June 19 2017

Rescuers searching for survivors from a building that collapsed on Monday night at Kware area in Embakasi, Nairobi, on June 13, 2017. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Rescuers searching for survivors from a building that collapsed on Monday night at Kware area in Embakasi, Nairobi, on June 13, 2017. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By DOROTHY KWEYU
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The collapsed seven-storey building tragedy in the Kware area of Embakasi, Nairobi, should provide a moment for soul-searching on what ails the building sector.

The story would still be trending today if all the 128 occupants of the 112-room building had died.

But now, it is business as usual, with humanitarian agencies left to attend to the displaced families.

And yet, even a single person dying is one too many, given that she or he could be the breadwinner or a child to whom the family looked for its future security.

Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero says court injunctions blocking the demolition of unsafe structures are to blame for frequent collapse of buildings.

UNSAFE BUILDINGS

Nairobi has 640 such unsafe buildings, with Huruma carrying the bulk of 388 buildings that should be demolished immediately.

But court injunctions are only part of a huge problem bedevilling Nairobi and other counties with death traps many call home.

By the time cases go to court, many safeguards should have been taken to stop scoundrels in the building industry from corrupting the court system to hide their indefensible handiwork.

My engineer sources point to various factors that lead to the collapse of buildings.

Design should take into account the weight of occupants, wind, and rain, among other factors, besides the weight of the building itself.

STRUCTURAL ENGINEERS

Structural engineers are responsible for the design, analysis of the loads and the integrity of the building.

It is, therefore, disingenuous of anyone to accuse courts of blocking demolitions, whose construction should never have taken off in the first place.

Granted, engineers are only human, and poor design due to a technical error can happen. But this is rare.

In most cases, building owners either out of ignorance or in a bid to save on professional expenses employ unqualified people.

Such quacks engage in cut-and-paste engineering. While a building ought to be as good as its design, developers fail to see the need for strict supervision during construction.

SUBSTANDARD

With greed etched in the Kenyan DNA, some developers avoid qualified architects, site supervisors and engineers.

As they save on costs, they jeopardise future occupants’ safety.

Theft at construction sites is all too common, and a contractor whose materials are stolen might go substandard replacements without regard to the building’s stability.

That is where eating chiefs in the counties come in.

While they should be condemning buildings that do not conform to approved drawings, they extort bribes instead.

QUALIFIED ENGINEERS

While the shortage of qualified engineers is a problem, it is just part of the story.

The real culprit is rampant graft that sees inspectors turn a blind eye on upcoming shoddy buildings.

It was Babylonian King Hammurabi, who prescribed death for builders of structures that collapsed, killing occupants.

How many would go to Kamiti Prison today if we adopted such a law!

BUILDING SAFETY

The National Construction Authority (NCA), the National Environment Management Authority and the Water Resources Management Authority all have stakes in building safety.

They should, regularly monitor structures under construction to ensure compliance with safety regulations.

Instead, they are engaged in a blame-game. The law requires all new construction projects to be registered with the NCA.

It also requires developers to disclose and register architects, engineers, quantity surveyors and contractors engaged on those projects.

If the NCA ensured that only accredited professionals were engaged on construction sites, collapsing buildings would be a rare phenomenon.

Ms Kweyu is a freelance writer and consulting editor. [email protected]