More monitoring of construction projects needed to avoid costly mistakes – expert

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Edgar Brandt

Windhoek-Following the condemnation and demolition of about 90 houses deemed unfit for human habitation at the coast earlier this month, a local construction expert has called for the strict monitoring of building projects to ensure total compliance with local standards.

Many prefabricated houses at Swakopmund were condemned by Urban and Rural Development Minister Sophia Shaningwa and as a result were demolished to make way for properly habitable structures.

“The demolition of houses due to health and safety concerns by the authorities is avoidable. Monitoring of the construction of homes by a competent building authority during construction can ensure that when standards are not being adhered to, non-compliance certificates can be issued and construction work stopped, hence avoiding the costly demolition of homes after they have been completed,” said Heinrich Schroeder, founding member of Kavango Block Brick, which manufactures alternative building bricks that offer home owners a more alternative approach than the conventional construction method.

Local media reported that Shaningwa condemned the prefabricated houses, built by the Delta Group, as they were “humanly uninhabitable”. The minister added that officials from the housing directorate inspected the houses north of Swakopmund’s DRC informal settlement and found the completed units to be unfit for human habitation.
“We did not wish to put at risk or sacrifice the lives of beneficiaries. It was therefore recommended that the houses be demolished and replaced with proper structures,” she said.

According to Schroeder, the current lack of monitoring and control of the usage of building materials is a major contributing factor leading to the demolition of unfit-for-occupation houses by local authorities. Schroeder, who has decades of experience in the construction industry, says systems throughout the world are in place to ensure that building materials are “fit for purpose” when used to construct habitable dwellings.

“This lack of ensuring compliance of materials on Namibian soil is of grave concern to me. In order to address this problem, we need to have accredited laboratories that can test all types of building materials. Currently our existing laboratories are very limited in what tests can be conducted. This leaves us wide open to being used as a ‘dumping ground’ for non-compliant materials, which would not be allowed in other countries,” said Schroeder.

Another concern raised by Schroeder is the floods currently being experienced in the north of the country.

His advice is that when houses are built in flood zones, proper town planning is implemented to ensure proper drainage through the correct installation of infrastructure to channel water away from low-lying areas.

“Each year we see the repeat of what we are seeing with flooding in the north. When will we learn? Developers and appointed civil engineers have a responsibility to ensure that the correct foundation designs are used based on the climatic and soil conditions of a particular area or region. Saturated ground during the rainy season, which is followed by drought, causes extensive ground movement which leads to structural cracks occurring in buildings,” Schroeder warned.

He also commented on the construction worker who lost his life in Otjomuise on Wednesday when a wall collapsed on him, saying that the tragic accident could have been prevented if proper monitoring had been done on site.

“Construction must be monitored on a daily basis to ensure that no more than one metre of the walls is built daily. However, the private sector must support the government in these monitoring efforts to ensure national standards are met on construction sites,” said Schroeder.

“In the house of reasoning, We Build Harambee Prosperity Cities intends to raise our voice to encourage and support the authorities to take the need for implementation of basic minimum standards and monitoring of construction projects seriously,” he added.

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