24 October 2013

Rwanda: Standards Day Focuses On Safety of Infrastructure

Rwanda has dedicated the International Day of Standards, October 14, to the enforcement of safety in construction. For Rwanda the theme is "standards to ensure positive change and safe infrastructure," and the day was celebrated on November 22.

Officials from both the Rwanda Bureau of Standards (RBS) and the Rwanda Housing Authority (RHA) have joined efforts to ensure safety in infrastructure, bringing them up to meet building standards and codes.

While officials dealing with standards and housing did not specify whether Rwandan infrastructure is poor or sub-standard, both RHA and RBS are highly concerned with the safety of some buildings, and so are committed to inspecting buildings to ensure their safety.

The director general of RBS, Mark Cyubahiro Bagabe, during a press conference last week, acknowledged that sub-standard materials still find their way into Rwanda, undermining national standards compliance.

Bagabe said that RBS combats these sub-standard materials through inspections, but that some still get through. "We only verify samples, we cannot take all materials to be tested," he explained, adding that ultimately, the responsibility remains with the consumer, to know what not to buy at the market.

With priority on infrastructure standards, RBS along with RHA have planned an inspection session to verify the safety standards compliance of some identified construction sites, as well as education and awareness of local contractors on construction standards.

But who is blame for unsafe structures? While some point the finger at sloppy and unprofessional engineers, others say that poor infrastructure is caused by the use of sub-standards materials.

Fred Rwihunda, the head of the engineers association, said that engineers have great responsibility to observe their career ethics.

He said that cheating in construction is a criminal offense for professionals and requested his peers to respect their profession.

As people who know what meets standards and what does not, engineers are urged to use standards compliant materials in their construction rather than cheaper materials that result in unsafe buildings.

However, the problem is not materials, but rather the construction system's lack of awareness on what material to use.

Regis Munyentwari, the director of infrastructure in the City of Kigali, stated that any building should abide by national construction standards

"We intend to discover whether the structures being instituted meet the standards," he said.

A four-story building in Nyagatare district collapsed last May, causing the death of four people. Reports blame its collapse on shoddy materials.

While engineers are blamed for structural-related building incidences, another issue with housing is sloppy electrical work, a problem that has caused several recent fires in Kigali.

Commode Dushime, a lecturer at the department of architecture and design in the University of Rwanda, said that the problem with infrastructure in the city is that the role of architecture is still ignored in the construction process.

"At a certain point people seem to minimize the role of the architect, which can result in poorly designed infrastructure," he said.

He further indicated that the uniformity of housing infrastructure all in the same location also undermines the role of architects in diversifying designs, removing healthy competition from the design process.

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