The New Times (Kigali)

Rwanda: Asbestos Roofing Replacement to Cost Rwf23 Billion

The overall total cost of removing and disposing off asbestos roofing countrywide is estimated to cost Rwf 23 billion, according to statistics from the Rwanda Housing Authority (RHA).

The exercise will cost individuals Rwf13bn while government will foot the remaining Rwf10bn on its buildings.

Following a decision by the government in 2009 to phase out asbestos roofing on both private and public buildings countrywide, RHA reports that the progress has been painstakingly slow.

The decision was taken after reports indicated that prolonged inhalation of asbestos fibres can cause serious illnesses including malignant lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis.

Two studies have so far been conducted to determine the actual quantity of asbestos roofing in the country.

The first study by Experco, a Canadian company in 2010, put the figure at 1,000,000 square metres while the second study by the government came up with 1,308,259 m².

Besides supervising the exercise, RHA will ensure the safe disposal of the materials and recommend suitable companies to carry out the exercise. So far, the housing body has trained 265 construction and environmental management related companies.

The Southern Province leads other provinces with the highest concentration of asbestos roofing estimated at 415,903 square metres. Kigali City has 354,468m², Eastern Province 224,954, Western Province with 213,626m² and Northern Province with 99,308, respectively.

The distribution of ownership is divided into three categories; Public category with a total of 571,928²m, Private-Public category that includes missionary founded schools and hospitals as well as public buildings with a total of 207,412m² and private category with 528,919m².

According to the Housing Authority, the high concentration of asbestos roofing is blamed on historic colonial settlement patterns.

"The asbestos roofing materials were expensive compared to others. They were preferred because they regulate heat and noise. They were believed to be durable. That is why it was either used by government or missionaries and few rich individuals and this is why it will not be difficult for such individuals or organisations to foot their replacement bills since most of them are well off,", observed Frederic Bizimana, Acting coordinator of the project to get rid of asbestos materials at RHA.

"We were tasked to have eradicated asbestos roofing materials by June 2013. While we do not meet the costs, it is possible that in future, some cases may come up through relevant channels justifying government intervention in case of those who justifiably cannot pay," said Habimana.

The exercise that was commissioned in April 23, 2012 by the Premier Minister Pierre Damien Habumuremyi has so far removed 111,000m² of asbestos materials.

For safety reasons the government does not sanction individuals to take any action without the approval of RHA much as the individual meets all costs, including delivery to the dumping site to be located in Kamonyi.

Nyamirambo School of the Deaf, which had a total of 2,000 m² of asbestos roofing, was unroofed by SM Construction Enterprise.

The company's director, Claude Gakwaya, says the exercise is affordable saying that it cost the school a total of Rwf3500 per square metre.

Gakwaya however says the cost of the exercise varies with the location and the height of the building, saying this could go as high as Rwf5,000 per square metre.

He says that it is important to comply with RHA's regulations to bring down the cost.

"When you comply with RHA instructions, you are safe and the exercise is not as costly as people have perceived it," explained Gakwaya.

Bernadette Mukankusi, the school's administrative assistant, echoes Gakwaya's sentiments saying there was need for proper planning in carrying out the exercise.

Over 125 million people are exposed to asbestos and more than 107,000 people die each year from asbestos related diseases, according to the World Health organisation (WHO).

The incubation period of the disease is 15-40 years which demonstrates slow manifestation, but once detected, the death rates of the disease are between 50-100 percent.

This means that there is no effective medical treatment available.

Asbestos products were imported into the country from Burundi and Belgium. In Burundi, they were manufactured by a company known as ETERNIT since 1954. The company was closed down in 1989 amid mounting anti asbestos campaigns, mainly in Europe.

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