The Government is considering moving ahead the deadline to eradicate asbestos roofing materials on public and private buildings across the country, The New Times has learned.
The dangerous roofing material was scheduled to be cleared and disposed of by the end of 2016, but officials now say financial constraints have affected the plan.
Gisele Ihozo, coordinator the asbestos eradication project at Rwanda Housing Authority (RHA), said things have since changed and that it looks like the deadline to get rid of asbestos by the end of the year will be difficult to fulfil.
In May, last year, officials at RHA set out to clear nearly 800,000 square metres of deadly asbestos roofing material that had remained intact and disposed of them by end of 2016.
But Ihozo, speaking last week, said a fresh assessment completed by the Rwanda Housing Authority in April 2016 found out that about 912,000 square metres of deadly asbestos roofing material remained across the country instead of the 800,000 that had been erroneously estimated in previous inventories as remaining intact.
And, with both government and private institutions finding it costly to get rid of asbestos roofing, Ihozo said new fund mobilisation efforts and sensitisation campaigns are needed to fast-track the process to end the threat of asbestos roofing materials.
That’s why officials at RHA have thought about a comprehensive plan to end asbestos and they are proposing that the central government invests Rwf6 billion to clear and dispose of all asbestos roofing materials on government property instead of leaving the task to individual government institutions.
“We believe it will be cheaper instead of handling them separately,” Ihozo said, explaining that the Rwf6-billion budget will be needed to clear some 520,000 square metres of asbestos roofing on all public buildings.
Once the Government’s share of the burden is cleared, she said, the next bigger shareholders of the burden will remain the Catholic Church and other faith-based organisations, as well as a few other private owners of buildings with asbestos roofing materials.
The danger in shelter
Asbestos, a mineral, was mixed in many types of construction materials in the past as it was recognised for 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 fibers causes serious respiratory diseases such as lung cancer, which cannot be fully cured even by the most advanced medical technologies in the world.
The findings were too late for Rwanda where asbestos roofing materials had been used by both the government, faith-based organisations, and other developers to build schools, hospitals, offices, and other important structures.
Monsignor Philip Rukamba, bishop of Butare Diocese and spokesperson of the Catholic Church in Rwanda, said removing asbestos roofing on the Church’s buildings will be a gradual process because the money needed to get rid of it at once is not available.
“You may find that you have about 50 buildings with asbestos roofing and it would require a lot of money to take it off at once. We do it slowly by slowly depending on the available means. But we all know that it’s a problem and we agreed that we will be removing it gradually,” he said.
Ihozo said the Rwf6-billion budget proposal for getting rid of asbestos roofing materials on all government-owned buildings will be submitted earlier enough so it can be considered by the government during budget revision for the current fiscal year in December.
“It might help in the awareness process if the government removes asbestos roofing on all its buildings,” she said.
Under the Prime Minister’s instructions, published in the Official Gazette in May, last year, about the procedure for eradication of asbestos materials, any owner of a building with asbestos material is required to urgently remove it.
The instructions also recommend owners who want to clear and dispose of asbestos material to seek and use a certified and trained person in asbestos safe removal.
About 620 private companies, inmates managed by the Rwanda Correctional Service, Police and the military personnel have been trained by RHA on how to remove asbestos, while asbestos burial sites have been prepared in 17 districts across the country.