ConstructionReal estateSustainable developmentUrban planning

Why Buildings Collapse in Pakistan

By 30.12.2020 0 Comments

Preamble

Resilient infrastructure is the foundation of sustainable cities and communities. However, safety codes for the construction of buildings are often ignored in Pakistan, due to which incidents of building collapses are quite common. Iqbal Institute of Policy Studies (IIPS) conducted a webinar on the topic “Why buildings collapse in Pakistan”. This blog presents the findings of that webinar and highlights the major causes of building collapse and way forward for sustainable development of infrastructure in Pakistan.  

Research Questions

1. What are the causes of building collapse in urban settlements?

2. What are the root causes of substandard construction of buildings? 

3. What are the different perspectives regarding every phase of the construction industry? 

4. What are the policy solutions needed to prevent building collapse in the future? 

Introduction

Resilient infrastructure is the foundation of sustainable cities and communities. With rapid urbanization, it is estimated that by the year 2030, 45.6 percent of Pakistan’s population will be living in cities (United Nations, 2018). However, safety codes for the construction of buildings are often ignored in Pakistan due to which incidents of building collapses are quite common. Sustainable cities and communities have been identified as one of the most important Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as they set the stage for fighting climate change and tackling poverty.

Causes of Building collapse in Pakistan

Pakistan’s fragile built infrastructure has given rise to frequent media reports of collapsed buildings in major cities. The reasons why buildings collapse in Pakistan include poor structural design, poor compliance with specifications, poor quality control, foundation failure, and corruption. Natural disasters such as earthquakes are also identified as a leading cause of building collapse in Pakistan. 

Non-observance of Construction and Safety Codes

Dr Sarosh Hashmat Lodi, Vice-Chancellor NED University of Engineering & Technology, highlighted the reasons that contribute to building collapse in Pakistan. The fundamental cause of building collapse is the non-observance of construction codes and safety codes. Many buildings fall because of their self-weight. This is because, in the construction process, more floors or weight is added to the structure than what it was initially designed for, which consequently leads to structural collapse. Furthermore, the steel bars used in Pakistan are usually made from low quality imported scraps, which are usually brittle rather than ductile. Also, they are not made under any specific codes and usually fail mechanical testing. While giving reference to his extensive four-year study in earthquake engineering, Dr. Sarosh Hashmat Lodi said that after conducting surveys of buildings all over the country, he found that 67 percent of buildings in Pakistan are made from brick masonry load-bearing structures while only 7 percent of buildings in Pakistan are reinforced concrete. He further stated that owing to the fragility of Pakistan’s built environment; it can be called a Katchi Abadi

There are many issues in Pakistan’s construction sector, including but not limited to poor management and monitoring procedures, no standardisation of construction material, lack of professionalism, due diligence, and unethical practices such as the use of substandard construction materials. Furthermore, Pakistan Engineering Council has not made any practical subjects mandatory in their course curriculum. For instance, the design procedure is not part of the engineering curriculum. Moreover, knowledge retention and upgradation remain a major issue among engineers and architects. The reason why developed countries have strong economies is that they have strong human resources. Therefore, Pakistan also needs to focus on capacity building and vocational training of its human resource employed in the construction sector. The construction industry is a catalyst for improving the economy in any country, so it needs to be prioritised at any cost. 

Poor Maintenance of Buildings

Dr. Shahid Mehmood, Member Planning and Design (CDA), highlighted the reasons that lead to the collapse of buildings in detail. According to him, old buildings that have outlived their useful life are more prone to collapse. Poor maintenance of buildings can reduce the life of structures and need periodical checks for faults. In the absence of preventive measures, buildings become more susceptible to collapse. Moreover, buildings in Pakistan suffer from bad design. There are no soil and capacity investigations carried out while constructing buildings, and structural engineers are not consulted. Although this problem is more widespread in the private sector, the public sector also fails to meet standards. In addition to bad design, poor execution is another reason why buildings collapse in Pakistan. It has become a common practice that before construction, the bearing capacity of structures is not measured properly, leading to an overload and collapse. Unskilled labour, untrained supervisors, and the quality of materials used in construction further aggravate the chances of structural failures. Another issue that can result in building collapse is poor plumbing that results in water seepage causing the building to lose strength. Furthermore, when building foundations are not water-proofed, the metalwork can get rusted over time and suffer the loss of robustness. Similarly, construction by the sea-side can be affected by chloride and sulphate attacks bringing about structural collapse. 

Negligence on the Part of Building Authorities

Brig Dr. Khaliq-ur-Rashid Kiyani (Retd), CEO Architectural and Civil Engineering Services (ACES), started by explaining that collapse is one form of structural failure that can be termed the most destructive form of failures, no less than a disaster. Forensic engineering deals with investigating structural failures that look into two major aspects of any building, i.e., the design and construction. The building design is a multidisciplinary field encompassing a wide range of players and stakeholders, including but not limited to environmental engineers, structural engineers, and architects. Coordination between all players is the key to an efficiently designed building. However, there is poor coordination between these players, which leads to poor designs. Furthermore, there is a dearth of experienced and certified structural engineers and architects in Pakistan that can design robust buildings. Moreover, when the design is handed over to engineers for construction, they lack a basic understanding of the design. In most cases, the site engineers and supervisors are inexperienced and lack knowledge of structural software, causing them to overlook major flaws in construction, which compromises the integrity of the building. The development authorities need to devise an effective system whereby only certified people can design buildings after getting hands-on training and passing vigorous evaluation criteria. In addition to setting up strict criteria for structural engineers and other professionals involved in the construction sector, they must make construction companies go through performance evaluations to authenticate their credibility. Building authorities must regulate the construction companies, which is currently lacking in Pakistan. 

Lack of Good Design

During the IIPS webinar, Dr. Ashfaq Ahmed Sheikh, Additional Registrar-CPD (PEC), stressed the importance of building authorities by stating that the role of building authorities is most vital when it comes to the construction sector. Building authorities are responsible for approvals as well as monitoring and evaluation of construction projects. They should keep updating their capacity to cope with the latest designs and technology. He further stated that a common reason for building collapse in Pakistan is that the buildings lack good design. The need of the hour is to introduce the practice of research and development in the construction sector to develop and adopt modern construction techniques.

Use of Substandard Construction Material

Major Nawaz Minhas, CEO of Kingcrete Builders, shed light on one of the most important but often neglected causes of building collapse in Pakistan, which is the uneven consistency of concrete used in construction. He explained that even if the design and foundation are up to quality, the poor standard of concrete results in cracking. The weak concrete in columns can lead to a sudden collapse. Owing to poor site supervision, substandard concrete is produced on-site. The poor-quality concrete, when used in columns, makes up a weak load-bearing structure incapable of withstanding heavy load. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, so if a building column is weak, it will collapse. There is no control over the homogeneous mixing of the concrete. These kinds of things happen not only because of corruption but also due to a lack of funds. The building control authorities cannot send supervisors to every site to monitor concrete quality as it is a tedious task. A better alternative would be to devise a system in which structural engineers and architects are paid to monitor concrete mixing on-site and ensure that the quality of concrete is not compromised. 

Exclusion of Architects and Structural Engineers in the Process

Khurram Farid Bargatt, Member IIPS Advisory Board, said that buildings are the most vital part of any city or settlement as they provide shelter against natural calamities and serve as a place to live and work. He further went on to highlight the factors leading to structural failure in Pakistan which include poor design, lack of testing before and after construction, foundation failure, lack of maintenance, or a combination of these factors. A major issue in Pakistan is that architects and structural engineers are not taken on board while designing buildings which leads to poor design. In most cases, buildings are renovated and repaired without any prior notice to the development authorities. Unaware of the consequences of constructional changes, people add rooms and office spaces in their buildings which can lead to their imminent collapse. Owing to the unavailability of building material standards, substandard materials are used in the construction of buildings. Lack of awareness among the inhabitants about cracks, uneven flooring, and differential settlement makes matters worse as they are unable to detect structural damages at an early stage. The provincial development authorities have outlined rules, by-laws, and safety standards to prevent structural failures but these laws are not implemented in letter and spirit. In addition, the government needs to put in place a proper system whereby construction materials are properly tested before they are sold in the market, so that poor quality construction material is not accessible for use. National vocational qualification and training are also a must for plumbers, electricians, and other human resources working in the sector.

Absence of Regulatory Compliance

While expressing his views on why buildings collapse in Pakistan, Lt Gen Muhammad Haroon Aslam (Retd), President IIPS Advisory Board, who was also acting as a moderator of the webinar, highlighted that absence of regulatory compliance is one of the major causes of the fragile built environment in Pakistan. Buildings collapse way before their stipulated life which is not only a technical matter but has multiple aspects and causes that need to be addressed for building a resilient Pakistan. It is imperative to completely rethink our cities and urban spaces to encourage resilient, environmentally friendly, and sustainable development practices. Furthermore, strengthening the local bodies is essential for better regulatory mechanisms and monitoring of construction activities. 

Policy measures to prevent building collapse 

Pakistan needs to first focus on capacity building and vocational training of its human resource employed in the construction sector. The development authorities need to devise an effective system whereby only certified people can design buildings after getting hands-on training and passing vigorous evaluation criteria. In addition, they must make construction companies go through performance evaluation to authenticate their credibility. Moreover, development authorities should keep updating their capacity to cope with the latest designs and technology. 

The need of the hour is to introduce the practice of research and development in the construction sector to develop and adopt modern construction techniques. The government needs to put in place a proper system whereby construction material is properly tested before being sold in the market. Since the building control authorities cannot send supervisors to all construction sites to monitor concrete quality, a better alternative would be to devise a system in which structural engineers and architects are paid to monitor concrete formation on-site and to ensure that quality of concrete is not compromised.

Key Takeaways

1. The most fundamental cause of building collapse is the non-observance of construction codes and safety codes.

2. Architects and structural engineers are not taken on board while designing buildings which lead to poor design features. Furthermore, knowledge retention and upgradation remain a major issue among engineers and architects. 

3. The building design is a multidisciplinary field encompassing a number of players and stakeholders, including but not limited to, environmental engineers, structural engineers, and architects. The coordination between all players is the key to an efficiently designed building.

4. Unsatisfactory soil and capacity investigations are one of the major reasons for flawed construction. Construction by the sea-side can be affected by chloride and sulphate attacks bringing about structural collapse. 

5. In most cases, buildings are renovated and repaired without any prior notice to the development authorities. Poor maintenance of buildings can reduce the life of structures. In the absence of preventive measures, buildings become more susceptible to collapse.

6. Unskilled labour, untrained supervisors, and the quality of construction material used in construction further aggravate the chances of structural failures. Uneven consistency of concrete used in construction is another area of concern. 

7. The steel bars that are used in Pakistan are usually made from low quality imported scrap, which is usually brittle rather than being ductile. In most cases, the site engineers and supervisors are inexperienced and lack knowledge of structural software causing them to overlook major flaws in construction and compromising the integrity of the building

8. One of the major factors that can result in building collapse is poor plumbing as it results in seepage. The leakage causes buildings to lose their strength. Effective vocational qualifications and training need to be provided to plumbers, electricians, and other human resources employed in the construction sector. 

9. The development authorities need to devise an effective system whereby only certified people can design buildings after getting hands-on training and passing vigorous evaluation criteria. In addition to setting up strict criteria for structural engineers and other professionals involved in the construction sector, they must make construction companies go through performance evaluation to authenticate their credibility.

10. Building authorities are responsible for approvals, monitoring, and evaluation of construction projects. They should keep updating their capacity to cope with the latest designs and technology. 

Bibliography

Iqbal Institute of Policy Studies. (2020). Covid 19 Environment and Crime in Pakistan. Islamabad: IIPS. Available at 

https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=689591138635796

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