Rwanda targets removing 1million square meters of asbestos roofing
Rwanda plans to get rid of 1 million asbestos cement roofing materials on residential and commercial buildings countrywide to mitigate health risks associated with occupants and workers of the buildings.
Scientific research shows that inhaling great concentrations of asbestos fibers over a long period can lead to many deadly diseases such as asbestosis, lung cancer, mesothelioma, larynx cancer and stomach cancer.
About 62,602 square kilometers of asbestos have so far been replaced since 2010 when the exercise was rolled out , out of a total of 1,000,000 countrywide, with the target of completing the process in the next 10 years.
Priority during the exercise which began in 2010 is being given to primary and secondary schools, hospitals and universities built though the majority of these buildings with asbestos cement roofs and false ceilings were build during the 1950-1994.
In a bid to completely eliminate asbestos roofing, the placed a ban on asbestos cement roofs in 2000.
However, despite the ongoing process the number of public buildings and private residences which have asbestos cement roofs is still high specifically on public buildings built before 1980 due to the huge cost of the exercise.
While the exercise is largely financed by government, building owners with financial means are obliged to foot the bill including removing the asbestos roofing and replacing it.
Government finances the removal and transportation of the asbestos sheets to burial sites, and provides alternative roofing for public institutions.
Currently, the exercise costs Rwf17000 ($ 28.5) on average per square meter to remove an asbestos cement roof and replace it with a new medium quality roof, a fee that most private building owners say in expensive.
“As we train more private companies the cost (of removing the roofing) will go down. Government also plans to facilitate vulnerable communities who cannot afford,” says Alfred Byiringiro a Civil Engineer in Asbestos Eradication Project at Rwanda‘s Housing Authority.
Government has trained and certified 120 private firms so far to handle the exercise to minimize health hazards.
“Employers must provide personal protective equipment such as masks, clothes, gloves for the workers having to work with asbestos containing products,” Mr Byiringiro adds.
Frequent and long term exposure to asbestos fibers leads to occupational diseases, particularly when asbestos cement roofs and false ceilings have deteriorated.
After removal , asbestos waste are buried at a minimum depth of two meters as they present health hazard for the workers who dispose them and for the population that lives near the disposal sites.
“District officials have to propose free sites though land must not be in a residential area or wetland or near the road. We have to secure the burial sites so that people cannot enter the waste sites and recuperate the asbestos cement roofs and to use them as recycled materials.” Mr Byiringiro explains.
According to the 2010 National Action Plan for the eradication of asbestos, the total estimated cost to remove all asbestos cement roofs and replace them with new roofs is Rwf15.5 billion ($260,504,201.6), with annual budget of Rwf1.55 billion($25,210,084.0)over 10 years implementation period.