The department of buildings under the Ministry of transport and public works has admitted facing challenges in enforcing building standards across the country, a development that has led to the mushrooming of sub-standard buildings.
Director of Buildings in the Ministry Terence Namaona told our reporter that construction of substandard infrastructure that fails to withstand different types of disasters in the country has negative implications on the economy.
The 2019 Post Disaster Needs Assessment report (PDNA) states that the 2019 floods alone resulted in damage to about 288,371 houses across the affected districts.
The report established that 89 percent of affected houses are constructed of traditional materials.
The total value of the effects of the March 2019 floods on the housing sub-sector is estimated at US$ 106.6 million (MK 79 billion), of which damage constituted US$ 82.7 million (MK61 billion) of the total and loss constituted US$ 23.9 million or MK18 billion.
The total cost of the damage to kitchens and toilets is valued at US$ 6.9 million or MK 5 billion, while the cost of damage to household items is estimated at US$ 10.8 million or MK8.2 billion.
The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction which is a global blue print for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) Interventions and commits countries to build resilient infrastructure with the aim of reducing economic losses and deaths.
Recently Malawi was hit by Cyclone Idai whose devastating effects left bruises on the communities and the economy.
Property and buildings were damaged as most houses constructed in rural areas use substandard materials which do not withstand disasters including floods and strong winds.
A visit to Machinga, one of the districts affected by floods in March this shows that communities are finding it hard to recover and confess they cannot afford to use expensive materials to build back better.
Edina Kandolo a mother of 3 and survivor of the March 2019 floods from group village headman Balakasi in Machinga told the explained her house was damaged by the floods and she could not manage to rebuild the fallen wall until well wishers came to her rescue.
“I lost food and other essential items and the communities came to assist me. My concern is they used the same local materials and my fear is if we experience heavy rains again, the same could happen and that is why I want to know how the government is expecting us to build strong buildings without money. Will they help us?” she asked.
Civil Society Network on Climate Change (CISONEC) national coordinator Julius Ng’oma said if Malawi is serious about developing lasting infrastructure effort must be made to deploy strategies that address the needs of the locals in the village and those in semi urban and urban places.
He added: “It is confusing that substandard work is visible in government projects yet the government should have been setting the right message by doing the right things”
Ng’oma further expressed fears that continued damage to critical public infrastructure has serious implications on the economy and more lives will be lost in the future.
“If the trend continues, it will be difficult to achieve target d of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (SFDRR 2015 – 20130) which focuses on reducing disaster damage to critical infrastructure and disruption of basic services,” said Ng’oma
Asked to comment on the fears from the various players, Namaona said government is aware to majority of the buildings in the country are vulnerable.
While he further described the situation as worrisome he assured Malawians a lot is being done to iron out challenges.
“If you look at the statistics, the majority of the buildings that we have are traditional since they use materials that are not durable and are prone to disasters. And because most of the buildings are in this category then there is a problem for Malawi and we need to do a lot so that these buildings start to get responsive to issues of disasters by incorporating resilience” he said.
Namaona added that apart from working with higher learning institutions that have introduced several programs in their curriculum, the government is working on various instruments such as building regulations, building policy and building legislation. He said Malawi has to follow global trends by constructing buildings that are resilient to different types of disasters such as earthquakes, floods, storm winds, and cyclones.
He said: “We are developing the building control and development bill that will anchor all different types of instruments that we need to build with resilience. Besides, we are developing the building regulations that will facilitate the works of local government especially councils to make sure they regulate the construction of buildings in Malawi.
“Apart from that, we are developing a building policy which gives a framework on what kind of expectations must we have in the building sector, for example, the quality of infrastructure, the issues that people were talking about here: transparency, corruption, and procurement, all these issues are being addressed in the policy.”
Namaona further said the building policy will be ready for submission to cabinet by end of this year, the building control and development bill will be taken to parliament in March next year and is optimistic the building regulations will be ready this year subject to cabinet and parliament contributions..
Among other things, the bill will provide a clear framework for safer housing guidelines (SHCG), safer schools construction guidelines and anchor bylaws which city, municipal and district councils have. As one of the government institutions targeted to reform, Namaona thinks the instruments will also accelerate the reform process so that it becomes more effective is enforcing standards and general delivery or work.
Namaona also admitted currently the department is hit by capacity, noncompliance issues, and political influence but was quick to say such challenges are not insurmountable.