Hur­ri­cane Matthew lends ur­gency to Ja­maica’s build­ing act

Jamaica Gleaner - - EARTH TODAY - Pe­tre Wil­liams-Raynor Con­tribut­ing Ed­i­tor

HUR­RI­CANE MATTHEW – pack­ing winds up to 145 miles per hour and leav­ing a trail of bod­ies, lev­elled build­ings and dis­placed peo­ple in its wake – has brought into sharp fo­cus the ur­gent need to have Ja­maica’s long-awaited build­ing bill passed.

This is to en­sure that the Ja­maica Na­tional Build­ing Code – the tech­ni­cal work for which was com­pleted and handed over to the govern­ment in 2009 and then re­cently up­dated – is made manda­tory.

Elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer Roo­sevelt DaCosta, who led the tech­ni­cal work on the code – mod­elled off the In­ter­na­tional Build­ing Code of the In­ter­na­tional Codes Coun­cil of the United States – and who was in­volved in its re­cent up­date out of the Bu­reau of Stan­dards, said the is­land is al­most there.

“The build­ing bill has un­der­gone sev­eral drafts since it was tabled in Par­lia­ment in Novem­ber of 2011 by the out­go­ing prime min­is­ter then, Bruce Gold­ing. The lat­est draft is a 2016 draft ... As I un­der­stand it, the Govern­ment wants to have the Chief Par­lia­men­tary Coun­sel fi­nalise that draft and bring it to de­bate in the short­est pos­si­ble time,” he told The Gleaner.

Min­is­ter of Lo­cal Govern­ment and Com­mu­nity De­vel­op­ment Des­mond McKen­zie was un­avail­able to com­ment ear­lier this week.

How­ever, DaCosta re­vealed that progress on the bill had been not been ham­pered by the Govern­ment.


“Both gov­ern­ments have dis­played a lot of ur­gency and sup­port for the build­ing bill. It is the stake­hold­ers and their con­cerns that have held back the bill com­ing through to Par­lia­ment to de­bate and pass­ing. How­ever, I think we are get­ting there,” he said.

“The sub­se­quent changes have been oc­ca­sioned by stake­hold­ers’ com­ments and dis­sat­is­fac­tion with el­e­ments of the draft. As we speak, I think the fi­nal changes are be­ing made and there are still a cou­ple of sec­tions that we were hop­ing they would get cor­rected,” DaCosta added.

Noel DaCosta, a chem­i­cal en­gi­neer and the man in whose ten­ure as head of the Ja­maica In­sti­tute of En­gi­neers is found the ge­n­e­sis of work on the code, con­curred with the elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer.

“I was in­vited to a meet­ing two weeks ago by a group from the Girls hold hands as they help each other wade through a flooded street af­ter the pass­ing of Hur­ri­cane Matthew in Les Cayes, Haiti, on Thurs­day, Oc­to­ber 6, 2016. CRIFF has an­nounced a US$20m in­sur­ance pay­ment for Haiti un­der that coun­try’s cy­clone in­sur­ance pol­icy. Prof Simon Mitchell

IDB (In­ter-Amer­i­can De­vel­op­ment Bank) ... where, for­tu­nately, many of the stake­hold­ers in­volved (with) the build­ing bill were also present,” he said.

“I am now in di­a­logue with the peo­ple from the Min­istry of Lo­cal Govern­ment where the build­ing code falls and are look­ing at some of the im­ped­i­ments. I think they are mov­ing with a bit more dis­patch. I am a lit­tle more op­ti­mistic now based on re­cent dis­cus­sions,” he added.

Ac­cord­ing to the elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer, im­ped­i­ments in­clude the def­i­ni­tions of two cat­e­gories of per­sons.

“The first def­i­ni­tion has to do with build­ing pro­fes­sion­als. These are peo­ple who are regis­tered un­der pro­fes­sional acts – ar­chi­tects, en­gi­neers, sur­vey­ors, those sorts of per­sons. The sec­ond has to do with a much larger group in­volv­ing peo­ple like Noel DaCosta

drafts­men, contractors, trades­men of var­i­ous sorts, and they have to be li­censed in or­der to carry out cer­tain code ac­tiv­i­ties,” he ex­plained.

“There has been some level of dis­agree­ment on these two def­i­ni­tions and the work that each party is sup­posed to be do­ing. For in­stance, pre­vi­ous drafts – up to the 2016 – is em­pow­er­ing non-pro­fes­sional peo­ple to do build­ing de­sign un­der the Res­i­den­tial Small Build­ing Code, which means they can de­sign build­ings up to 300 square me­tres,” he added.

The pro­fes­sion­als who have worked on the code, he said, hold a dif­fer­ent view of things.

“We be­lieve that could se­ri­ously im­pact pub­lic safety be­cause you can have com­plex build­ings in that size. The code lists about 18 dif­fer­ent things that make a build­ing com­plex

(such as those shaped like arches or domes) and so we are say­ing that, yes, the sim­ple, non-com­plex build­ing can be de­signed by those peo­ple as they have been do­ing from ever since,” he said.


“When it comes to the com­plex build­ing, they are not able to prop­erly an­a­lyse forces and com­pen­sate for them, and so there are real dan­gers that peo­ple will face,” he added.

Mean­while, Pro­fes­sor Simon Mitchell, act­ing head of the Earth­quake Unit, said there is no down­play­ing the need to have the act in place.

“We do need to get it passed so that when we are putting in new con­struc­tion, it will stand up to heavy hur­ri­canes like Matthew, earth­quakes, that sort of thing,” he said.

Mitchell also un­der­scored the need for pe­ri­odic up­dates and en­force­ment of the code.

“If you look at Chile, Ja­pan, what you find is that when they have an event, they go back and re­vise the build­ing code. That is what we need to do to make the build­ing code most use­ful,” he told The Gleaner.

“Just hav­ing a build­ing code is not much use be­cause, one, there is a lot of build­ings that al­ready ex­ist; and num­ber two, un­less we en­force it, it doesn’t make sense you have it. One of the things we are not very good at in this coun­try is en­force­ment,” he added.



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