Weak build­ings threaten life

China Daily (Canada) - - COMMENT -

On April 4, a build­ing col­lapsed in Fenghua, Zhe­jiang prov­ince. Five days later, the deputy chief of con­struc­tion of the street where the build­ing once stood is said to have com­mit­ted sui­cide.

Did the lo­cal of­fi­cial (He Gaobo) com­mit sui­cide be­cause he was forced to take the blame for ac­ci­dent? It is not known. But if in­deed that is the case thenHe should be seen as a vic­tim of in­jus­tice, be­cause grass­root­slevel of­fi­cials should not be made scape­goats for such ac­ci­dents.

The Fenghua build­ing col­lapse could be the be­gin­ning of awave of such ac­ci­dents as the “fast food” build­ings built in the 1980s and 1990s en­ter their 30s and 20s. So there is no jus­ti­fi­ca­tion in blam­ing grass­roots of­fi­cials who have nei­ther the power nor fi­nan­cial re­sources at their com­mand for such ac­ci­dents.

On the con­trary, it’s high time higher-level of­fi­cials looked at the real cause of such ac­ci­dents and took mea­sures to pro­tect people’s lives and prop­er­ties. To be­gin with, qual­ity su­per­vi­sion of­fi­cials should es­tab­lish an ac­count­abil­ity sys­tem and reg­u­larly in­spect res­i­den­tial build­ings to iden­tify and elim­i­nate risks be­fore ac­ci­dents hap­pen.

Over the past fewyears, the pub­lic and the me­dia have fo­cused at­ten­tion on ris­ing hous­ing prices, over­look­ing the im­por­tance of safety that comes with the use of qual­ity con­struc­tion ma­te­ri­als. Ac­cord­ing to the Property Law, a per­son en­joys property right over real es­tate for 70 years, but many of the res­i­den­tial build­ings seem to have a life­span of only 50 years, af­ter which they would be­come too dan­ger­ous to live in or would be pulled down. Some ex­perts even say that some of the build­ings are good enough to last only 25 years.

This should re­mind au­thor­i­ties to take mea­sures to en­sure that property de­vel­op­ers use only qual­ity ma­te­ri­als in con­struc­tion. This has be­come all the more im­por­tant be­cause sim­i­lar ac­ci­dents have been re­ported from Shi­ji­azhuang, He­bei prov­ince, and Shang­hai ear­lier.

Many people say that property de­vel­op­ers use sub­stan­dard con­struc­tion ma­te­ri­als to max­i­mize prof­its, and ex­perts fear this trend will en­ter a high risk pe­riod in the com­ing two decades.

There­fore, en­sur­ing the use of qual­ity con­struc­tion ma­te­ri­als is key to pro­tect­ing people’s property rights, es­pe­cially be­cause a house is the costli­est as­set that a ma­jor­ity of the fam­i­lies pur­chase.

With ur­ban­iza­tion gain­ing a fever­ish pace in China, qual­ity con­trol and safety fac­tors have be­come more im­por­tant than ever. Zhou Lei, a specialist with theMin­istry ofHous­ing and Ur­ban-Ru­ral De­vel­op­ment, once said that quite a few­prop­erty de­vel­op­ers are us­ing poor con­struc­tion ma­te­ri­als and cheat­ing home­buy­ers in other ways. For ex­am­ple, some de­vel­op­ers de­vi­ate from the stan­dard re­quire­ment for re­in­force­ment cov­ers in a ma­jor way.

In fact, ZhuMin­feng, the Guang­dong provin­cial bureau of qual­ity su­per­vi­sion, even warned people not to buy apart­ments in build­ings built in 2007 or 2008 in Guang­dong be­cause de­vel­op­ers had grossly com­pro­mised on the qual­ity of ma­te­ri­als and con­struc­tion.

The aver­age life­span of build­ings in China is less than those in Ja­pan or Euro­pean coun­tries. Build­ings in Ja­pan have a longer life­span even though the coun­try is of­ten rocked by mas­sive earthquakes. Europe is home to many “cen­tu­rion” build­ings, the aver­age life­span of build­ings in the United King­dom is 130 years. On the other hand, the aver­age life­span of a build­ing in China is about 50 years, much less than that in Switzer­land and Nor­way (80 years).

“The rea­son some build­ings (in China) won’t last more than 50 years, or in some cases about 25 years, is their faulty ar­chi­tec­tural struc­ture and the use of low qual­ity ma­te­ri­als,” Zhou says. So, people “should pay at­ten­tion to not only the build­ings that have col­lapsed, but also to the po­ten­tial risks that other build­ings hide”.

Since re­bars and con­crete make up the “skele­ton” of a build­ing and sup­port its weight, they should be of sound qual­ity. And re­bars need qual­ity con­crete cover to pre­vent cor­ro­sion. If sub­stan­dard ma­te­ri­als are used for the con­crete cover, cor­ro­sion will set in ear­lier than ex­pected and shorten the life of the build­ing.

The qual­ity is­sue is closely re­lated to the rapid de­vel­op­ment of the con­struc­tion in­dus­try and weak su­per­vi­sion. A real es­tate project is usu­ally di­vided into three phases: de­sign, con­struc­tion and in­spec­tion for ap­proval. Ex­perts say qual­ity is com­pro­mised most dur­ing the con­struc­tion process. The prob­lems, how­ever, could be de­tected dur­ing the last process, that is in­spec­tion. But cor­rup­tion and nepo­tism play a vi­tal role in en­sur­ing that the po­ten­tial risks go ei­ther “un­de­tected” or “un­re­ported”.

Per­haps de­vel­op­ers are right— people should not be wor­ried about ex­tend­ing their property rights be­yond 70 years be­cause many of the build­ings are likely to be pulled down be­fore their property rights ex­pire.

The use of in­fe­rior ma­te­ri­als in build­ing con­struc­tion is not only a safety risk for res­i­dents, but also could lead to le­gal tan­gles. With China ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a realty boom, it will be dif­fi­cult for a home­owner (or his/her suc­ces­sor) to trace the orig­i­nal de­vel­oper or con­struc­tion com­pany, that is, if it is still around af­ter a few decades. In such cases, the fam­ily has to bear the loss if a build­ing col­lapses.

Be­sides, many fam­i­lies have to mort­gage their homes to meet the sky­rock­et­ing hous­ing prices. So the col­lapse of a build­ing be­fore a home­buyer pays off his/her loan will cre­ate a pe­cu­liar sit­u­a­tion for both the home­buyer and the bank. Why should a home­buyer pay his/her mort­gage af­ter los­ing his/her house? But then, why should the bank not get back its loan if a build­ing col­lapses? That’s why a com­pen­sa­tion sys­tem needs to put in place to deal with such cases and min­i­mize the loss of house­own­ers. The au­thor is deputy dean of the agri­cul­tural eco­nom­ics and ru­ral de­vel­op­ment school at the Ren­min Univer­sity of China.

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