Rwanda's ticking time bomb: No safety standards, no testing capacity

Wednesday July 12 2017

The Rwandan market was found to be flooded with

The Rwandan market was found to be flooded with construction materials such as commonly used cladding and finishing whose fire ratings were not indicated. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA | NATION 

By JOHNSON KANAMUGIRE
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How safe are buildings in Rwanda? What standards should this safety be pegged on? Those are two questions with a baffling answer: No one really knows!

How? The country has neither gazetted standards for fire safety nor the capacity to test for the fire ratings of materials used in the construction industry.

A recent assessment by the Ministry of Infrastructure (MININFRA) found that construction materials on a number of buildings had neither labels nor specifications indicating their fire-rating.

The possible exceptions may be the newer, high value developments in Kigali where the involvement of international consultants, imposes international best practices on both the developer and the contractor.

According to an urban engineer at the City of Kigali Alphonse Nkurunziza, the country is yet to develop fire rating standards and a testing laboratory, hence the market has no certification systems for building materials.

“Even as we issue construction permits, we have no basis or capacity to know which material specifications conform to acceptable fire resistance standards,” Nkurunziza told Rwanda Today.
“Rwanda Standards Bureau should address this loophole and ensure the requisite capacity in terms of equipment and skills to test those materials conduct inspections are in place,” he added.

Sources familiar with the results of MININFRA’s assessment say the market was found to be flooded with construction materials such as commonly used cladding and finishing whose fire ratings were not indicated.

City of Kigali One Stop Centre Director Fred Mugisha said the situation complicates not only the control of conformity to fire safety regulations in issuance of occupation permits but also advising investors on required materials’ specifications.

“That is why when we issue an occupation permit we only check if there are firefighting equipment in the building, because we have no basis to gauge if the used materials are resistant to fire. The specification of those materials are not listed anywhere,” he said.

The concerns arose ahead of a soon-to-be-launched nationwide inspection by MINIFRA to establish the fire safety status of buildings across the country.

Infrastructure Minister James Musoni recently met with One Stop Centre managers; professional engineering associations and contractors to chart ways of ensuring that materials that do not deter fires are not used in construction

Musoni said this would require the development of fire safety standards as well as setting up of a national testing laboratory.

Rwanda Standards Board officials said in select cases, they outsource fire rating tests on construction materials from professional labs in the region.

Samuel Mporanzi, the head of Engineering and Urban Planning at RSB however says the body would soon determine the standards and the kind of equipment needed for the materials laboratory.

Rwanda recorded more than 330 fire incidents over the past six years in which prisons, pubs, schools, hotels and commercial buildings were gutted.

Most incidents were blamed on poor electrical installations and inadequate firefighting equipment among other factors.