Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Yaounde Falling Buildings
Three multi-storey buildings have crumbled within the last four months in Cameroon’s capital city, Yaounde. The first of the series of failed constructions recorded last February killed 4 persons, and the latest on August 16 injured at least 7. The last two that occurred within 8 days in the same neighbourhood (Elig-Essono), less than 20 steps apart has left the residents terrified.
In the wake of these dramatic incidents, the Government Delegate to the Yaoundé City council Gilbert Tsimi Evouna, blamed the mishap on the owner of the construction project who continued building despite a stop-work order. He added that in both cases the owners either did not have a building permit, or constructed bigger facilities than they were authorized to.
An explanation which many observers have judged too simplistic, and a pale attempt by the city to transfer blame.
Rise in Sub-Standard Construction
As engineering consultant Jean-Baptiste Tchoffo of Gestor Technologies explains a couple of factors can be responsible for a failed construction. “These could range from poor studies, to the absence of control during the project or simply the wrong application of construction standards”.
A view shared by Tankoh George Nuga an experienced builder and civil engineer carrying out various construction projects in the city “You cannot do a building in Bamenda and try to do the same building in Yaounde without taking into consideration the soil characteristics of the two regions” he observed rubbing off the sand on his palms.
Contractor Puene Francoise whom I met by her sleek Mercedes supervising a construction facility in Bastos Yaounde says “It is true contractors must check the quality of materials in laboratories but the government must not allow that sub-standard materials be imported into the country.”
The General Manager of the National Civil Engineering Laboratory (LABOGENIE), Philippe Nouanga, on his part expressed regrets over the fact that his agency does not control building material produced locally or imported into the country.
Speaking behind his modest office table at the Ekounou neighbourhood he said “It is only LABOGENIE that has the lab equipments to test and assess the quality of construction material that go into the market.”
Importers themselves have disclosed that some importers trade in iron rods of diameters that are not authorized by the state. And other construction material dealers put cement on the market with no specifications on how to use them.
It is impossible at first glance to say how resistant an iron rod is, or the strength of a concrete mix. Even engineers need a bunch of equipments and standards to assess this. The National Civil Engineering Laboratory is the country’s best bet in the domain. By ignoring its best brains in the domain, the government of Cameroon cannot guarantee the quality of the construction materials used on the country’s construction facilities. Even the head of the committee tasked with assessing standards of building materials Mr. Tchoffo is convinced there are sub-standard products on the market.
The new Standards and Quality Agency has now promised that every bag of cement entering any of Cameroon’s ports will be checked first, as part of a wider control scheme to be set up. The only problem is the members of the standards agency, yet to have an office of its own, confess (off-the-record) that they don’t have the money to match the lofty promises it is making so far.