88% of asbestos roofing still intact

Despite the government’s campaign to remove asbestos roofing materials from various public and private buildings in the country, much work still remains to be done.
Experts remove asbestos sheets from a roof last year. Inset is a house with asbestos. The New Times/ File
Experts remove asbestos sheets from a roof last year. Inset is a house with asbestos. The New Times/ File

Despite the government’s campaign to remove asbestos roofing materials from various public and private buildings in the country, much work still remains to be done.

The removal of asbestos sheets that kicked off in January, 2011, has seen 148,689 square metres (12 per cent) removed and disposed of.

However, about 1,159,570 (88 per cent) remain of the 1,308,259 square metres of asbestos on all buildings countrywide, according to Rwanda Housing Authority Asbestos Eradication Project.

The World Health Organisation says more than 107,000 people die globally each year from asbestos-related diseases due to occupational exposure.

However, no case has been recorded in Rwanda since there is no appropriate study done linking exposure to asbestos to particular diseases.

Speaking to The New Times recently, Frédéric Bizimana, the acting coordinator of Asbestos Eradication Project, said removing the roofing material has been hampered by financial constraints.

“About 500,000 square metres of asbestos roofs was expected to be removed and disposed of in 2012-2013 budget year, but only 148,689m2 were removed and buried by February, 2013, due to budget constraints,” Bizimana said.

The total cost of removing and disposing of the deadly roofs countrywide is estimated at Rwf25.5 billion.

Statistics

Bizimana said five asbestos disposal sites are operational in Kamonyi, Muhanga, Huye, Ngoma, and Kayonza districts, adding that the disposal sites are few compared to the quantity of asbestos.

“There are inadequate disporal sites in the country to minimise transport cost and risks that come with making long distances. Ten disposal sites are expected to be prepared throughout the country by this budget year,” Bizimana said.

According to Asbestos Eradication Project progress report, Southern Province has 1,251 buildings roofed with asbestos followed by the City of Kigali (931), while the north has the least.

Southern Province Governor Alphonse Munyentwari said they have started removing the roofing materials despite the fact that the buildings are many.

“Owners of buildings with asbestos, especially schools, have committed themselves to remove them,” he said.

Dr Theobald Hategekimana, the director-general of Kigali Central Teaching Hospital, said the more one is exposed to asbestos, the greater the chance for developing respiratory diseases.

“We haven’t yet received cases of asbestos-related diseases, but when used for a long time, asbestos begin to release small fibres which, if breathed in, can be poisonous,” Dr Hategekimana said.

Tharcisse Nziza, the director of Estates at the National University of Rwanda, said they are waiting for funds from Rwanda Housing Authority to kick off the campaign to remove asbestos.

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