The Poor Quality Of Construction in Nairobi, Possible Consequences & Solutions

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In developing countries, poor quality construction has led to spontaneous building collapse and, during earthquakes, to major disasters. While reliable building codes are widely used in design, builders in developing countries often fail to meet acceptable standards. Structural defects are frequently identified too late, often after catastrophic collapse.

In Kenya, more than eighty people have been killed, and over 290 injured, by collapsed buildings, since 2006. Researchers attribute most of the 230 thousand deaths in Haiti during the 2010 earthquake to the low quality of Haitian construction. But, sadly, Haiti is not an exception. In 2009 Kenyan officials estimated that 65% of Kenya’s buildings fail to meet code standards.

Dr. Raul Figueroa, CEO of Questworks, a real estate design build firm in Nairobi and faculty of Strathmore University. For his PhD dissertation at the Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, USA, Raul carried out a research on the structural integrity of buildings in Nairobi.  Raul and our team conducted concrete tests on buildings within and around Nairobi’s CBD. We also  interviewed experts with over 10 years of experience in the construction industry, ranging from architects, contractors, quantity surveyors and engineers.

The research team also modelled what would happen if an earthquake measuring 6 on the Richter scale were to hit Nairobi.

Some of the findings from this research;

 

  1.   75% of the buildings surveyed were built (or in the process of being built) using concrete that did not meet the standards that had been specified by the structural engineers in charge. The concrete used in those buildings, and certified as compliant with specification, is in fact, on average, 36% weaker than the certificates say. The approvals from the architects and engineers are based on the (inaccurate) certificates.
  2. In other areas around Nairobi, such as Buru Buru and Eastlands, as survey of 25 buildings showed that 100% of the tested concrete was weaker than required by design. In this case the concrete was close to 40% weaker.
  3. 90% of the results from concrete testing laboratories that had been used to certify the quality of the concrete used to build were wrong when compared to the findings of the actual concrete testing carried out by Raul and his team. The data shows that the quality control mechanisms for structural concrete currently used in Kenya are not as effective as they should be. Architects and engineers routinely certify buildings as safe for occupation based, in part, on inaccurate or false laboratory reports.
  4. Experts who were surveyed predicted almost perfectly as a group the poor quality of concrete used in buildings in Nairobi. This implies that professionals involved in the construction industry are aware that something is wrong with the current quality control practices in Kenya.
  5. Computer simulation models show Nairobi losing between 1.5 and 2.5 million square meters, which translates to between 800 and 3500 residential and commercial buildings, along with thousands of deaths and injuries, and over 3 billions of dollars in reconstruction. This would have catastrophic effects for Kenya’s capital.

The findings suggest that there is widespread fraud and that the current quality control practices are not effective in ensuring structural reliability of new and existing buildings alike, an issue that should be of great concern to policy makers and other stakeholders in the construction industry.

We have encountered various incidences of poor construction quality and ineffective quality control measures, which forced the company to invest in concrete testing equipment that we use in all the projects that we supervise. We believe in the mantra “trust but verify”.

We are  proposing for the formation of a construction quality institute which would include key players among them the National Construction Authority, Nairobi City Council, The Kenya Property Developers Association, Hass Consult, and other stakeholders in the construction industry. This independent institute would

  1. Push for the open publication of quality reports for construction
  2. Rating of professionals in the industry based on their quality record
  3. Increasing public awareness on the dangers of poor construction quality
  4. Focus on empowering the public to carry out their own independent quality tests during and after construction by use of non-destructive testing equipment.


Questworks has now taken a small step in this process by getting equipment to allow for free testing of building quality.

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