Govt sets fresh deadline for asbestos removal

Many old public and private buildings have asbestos roofing. Budget constraints have been the main obstacle to the asbestos removal operation. / File

The Minister for Infrastructure, Claver Gatete, has revealed that whatever remains of the deadly asbestos roofing material on public buildings will be removed within one year.

The commitment comes after government missed several targets it had set since the exercise to remove the cancerous roofing material from public building was started nearly 10 years ago.

“We are going to remove all the asbestos and we are starting very soon to remove all the asbestos on public buildings,” he said in an interview on Friday.

Fresh information from Rwanda Housing Authority (RHA) indicate that over 633,000 square metres of deadly asbestos roofing material remains intact on both private (churches and other people) and public (government) buildings.

Of the above remaining asbestos roofing, more than half is on government buildings and Minister Gatete said that the government will have removed it within the next one year.

“That’s what we are planning as government,” he said in the interview, confirming that one year is the deadline the government has given itself.

Freddy Bizimana, an Inspector of Asbestos Removal Project at RHA in Charge of City of Kigali, told this newspaper on Friday that if the government manages to remove all asbestos roofing on its own buildings, members of the private sector will be inspired to follow suit.

“The government wants to be an example in this process and then inspire the private sector,” he said in a telephone interview.

The official also reiterated that the government needs to invest at least Rwf4.5 billion in order to remove the asbestos roofing on the public buildings.

While the funding shortage has previously been the main obstacle in the process, Bizimana said, negotiations are underway with various potential private sector partners who can be contracted to remove it and get paid in instalments.

Minister Gatete said the government is already committed to end the danger of asbestos and money won’t be the main issue in this process.

“There is money to do it and whoever we hire will be hired to do it,” he said.

Efforts to eradicate asbestos started in October 2009, when the Cabinet gave a six-month period within which people or institutions with asbestos on their roofs would have got rid of them.

But that target proved too ambitious with a limited number of trained technicians coupled with limited funds.

In 2013, the government estimated that there was more than one million square metres of asbestos roofing that had to be cleared and disposed of by 2016, an exercise that was estimated to cost Rwf23 billion.

However, things have changed since then, with the price to remove asbestos going down as a result of a bigger number of trained technicians to conduct the exercise in addition to the increased number of asbestos burial sites.

Asbestos, a mineral, was mixed in many types of construction materials and other purposes in the past as it was recognised with positive features of high durability and fire resistance.

But in the 1980s, after mass production of asbestos materials, it was found out that inhalation of very thin asbestos fibres causes serious respiratory diseases such as lung cancer, which cannot be fully cured even by the most advanced medical technologies in the world.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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