Rwanda: Financial Constraints Slow Asbestos Removal

16 January 2019

The exercise to get rid of asbestos roofing materials from public and private buildings, which begun nearly 10 years ago, is now at 56 per cent countrywide, with budget constraints cited as the main obstacle to the operation.

Eric Kananga, the Acting Coordinator of Asbestos Removal Project at Rwanda Housing Authority (RHA), told The New Times that if the required budget - nearly Rwf4.9 billion - is availed, the exercise could be wrapped up by end 2021.

In addition to the funding shortfall, Kananga explained that the negative mindset, characterised by some private property owners who put up resistance to the exercise is another obstacle.

However, he added, this challenge was gradually being overcome.

"Budget constraint is the main issue here. This exercise is costly, both to public and private building owners. But when you go deeper, you also notice some cases of resistance mostly due to the ignorance of the dangers or the gravity of the problem," Kananga said.

To address the mindset issue, he explained, they have intensified awareness campaigns, and when reluctant propertiy owners are properly engaged, they gradually see the light and follow suit.

Efforts to eradicate asbestos started in October 2009 when the Cabinet gave a six-month period within which people or institutions with asbestos roofing were supposed to remove them.

However, challenges such as the shortage of skilled personnel to remove asbestos and funding constraints delayed the exercise.

Considering the health risk, on April 18, 2011 the Government rolled out a National Action Plan to properly eradicate asbestos from buildings.

An Asbestos Eradication Team at RHA with a hotline telephone number 4150 for the public to use was set up.

On government buildings, the exercise cost Rwf1.3 billion in the 2018-2019 fiscal year.

Asbestos Eradication Team at RHA needs Rwf4.9 billion until the end of 2020-2021 complete the exercise on government buildings.

The project is being implemented under what Kananga referred to as a "framework contract with the Reserve Force," for two years.

He said: "It is used in terms of Service Orders for the works to be executed."

How private individuals go about it

Unlike in the public sector where institutions affected go through the normal tendering process and the Government foots the bill, private individuals and institutions must pay for asbestos removal on their own.

Kananga explained that private entities must first seek RHA permission as the latter needs to ensure that safety procedures are adhered to during asbestos removal.

The agency gives a private individual the list of qualified companies involved in the asbestos removal business, follows up to check waste disposal, and inspects the process from start to end, to avoid possible health risks.

"But it is the private owners who must foot the bill. For public agencies and institutions, everything goes through a tendering process and money comes from the government budget," he said.

Jean Rodrigue Munyaneza, a civil engineer of the Catholic Archdiocese of Kigali, helped break down the cost a private owner would incur to a little over Rwf3 million.

For an average 300 square metre family house, he said, the total cost would involve up to Rwf500,000 to remove the asbestos, Rwf1.5 million to buy new iron sheets, and Rwf600, 000 for labour and painting, among others.

This is addition to the usually unforeseen refurbishment or construction costs that go with it.

One also has to foot the bill of transporting the removed asbestos to a designated dumping site for safe disposal.

There are more than 14 asbestos disposal dump sites countrywide.

"Asbestos roofing is good in many respects, including lessening of noise pollution but it is very costly to replace it. Replacing is not easy for an individual person. But people are doing their best," he noted.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Kigali's territory - areas including Kigali, Bugesera, and part of Rulindo and Gakenke districts - initially had nearly 40,000 square meters of asbestos roofing but, Munyaneza said, they have since removed nearly 90 per cent on the roofs.

"We only remain with about 800 square metres in Collège Saint André (Nyamirambo), 1,000 in Kabuye Parish, 310 in Gikondo, 500 in the Ruhuha Parish, among others."

The Catholic Archdiocese of Kigali, he explained, is independent and cannot account for the other eight regions in the country. Each has its own set-up, or legal personality, and caters for its own operations.

Munyaneza said that the exercise is very costly but could not ably tell how much has been injected in total, so far, as "our different parishes have varying budgets and processes."

Nor could he ably tell when exactly they will finish removing the hazardous roofs but he was emphatic that they are doing their best.

Father Emmanuel Nsengiyumva, the head of Nyamata Parish, said they started asbestos removal in 2011 and have injected in the process close to Rwf70 million, in three phases.

"What remains now is just 10 per cent and that is in Musenyi. We are set to remove this too this year as we have already bout iron sheets worth Rwf6 million. About Rwf18 million in total will be used but we hope to finish this," Nsengiyumva said.

"Asbestos removal is very expensive. Asbestos roofing has the dual advantage of thermal control and when removed, you have to raise the structural walls to maintain normal temperature."

107,000 people die each year

According to World Health Organisation (WHO), at least 107,000 people die each year from asbestos-related diseases due to occupational exposure. About 125 million people in the world are exposed to asbestos risk, mainly at workplace.

Asbestos is said to cause serious diseases - including Asbestosis, Lung cancer, and Mesothelioma, all affecting the lungs - mainly relating to the respiratory system by inhaling its fibres.

The diseases' incubation period is reportedly very long (15 - 40 years), and once symptoms are detected the death rates are very high (50 - 100 per cent).

There is no effective medical treatment available.

In Rwanda, no cases are recorded since no study has been done in that regard.

Asbestos removal requires expertise to ensure that the toxic substance is handled in a way that does not harm human life.

In November 2015, the Rwanda National Police (RNP) and RHA held a consultative meeting on how to jointly implement the removal of asbestos roofing material from public and private buildings.

More than 630 construction companies, officers and staff from RDF, RNP, RCS, and other agencies have since trained in the safe removal and disposal of asbestos.

Chief Superintendent of Police Egide Mugwiza, the head of the RNP engineering regiment, said when they started removing asbestos from their old buildings nearly six years ago, they had 13,897 square metres of asbestos roofing.

They now remain with 2,450 square metres or 17 per cent, which they hope to get rid of this year, he added.

Without considering other additional rehabilitation costs, Mugwiza said, the cost for removal, transportation, dumping asbestos and replacing it with decent iron sheets varies from Rwf18,000 to Rwf20,000 per square metre.

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