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Building code needed

By Vernon Khelawan Thursday, September 21 2017

After more than 50 years of Independence and tremendous haggling among the authorities, Trinidad and Tobago is still without a National Building Code (NBC). This becomes especially important in the face of unauthorized and indiscriminate construction on river banks, steep hillsides and in flood prone areas.

Illegal structures can be seen in cemeteries, on the roadsides and on lands that do not belong to persons building on the lands. Compounding the situation, some of these illegal structures have electrical and water connections.

The situation has prompted engineer Dr Myron Chin to speak out on the subject. Writing in the latest issue of Caribbean Construction Digest (CCD), he said, “The need for a national building code (NBC) for Trinidad and Tobago has long been recognised and various attempts have been made to develop one over the past four decades, but so far, it remains an elusive dream.

He said, “The development and enforcement of a national building code is indispensable to the orderly and safe development of a country’s built environment and therefore, its sustainable development.”

The destruction caused by earthquakes in recent years, including in Haiti in 2010; in Chile also in 2010, in New Zealand in 2011, and most recently, in Mexico this week, show that tremors, in any part of the world, should be taken seriously.

“Main objectives of such a code”, Dr Chin said, “is the establishment of minimum requirements for design, construction and occupancy of building structures with the aim of protecting public health, safety and general welfare.”

He said while it was common knowledge that Caribbean islands were situated near a “seismically active zone”, he added “the long return interval between devastating regional events and other prevailing factors have combined to make it difficult for most countries of the region to establish and sustain effective earthquake risk reduction programmes.”

Dr Chin pointed out that in the absence of earthquake risk management programmes locally, population increase and economic development over the last five decades have taken place in such a way that earthquake risk was currently at levels that were unacceptable.

“The cost, in terms of human and property losses, that a large to great earthquake could inflict on any Caribbean island can be extremely high and is expected to continue to rise in the future, unless concerted efforts are made to address the multi-dimensional causes of earthquake risk by means of new, effective initiatives.”

Thirteen years ago (2004) the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) convened a meeting of key regional stakeholders to assess the regional readiness to withstand natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes.

Resulting from that findings of that meeting, the bank agreed to fund the development of a new Regional Building Standard (RBS) based on the International Building Code (IBC) with Caribbean Application Documents (CADs) for the various Caribbean islands.

This was to be executed by the CARICOM Regional Organisation for Standards and Quality (CROSQ). However, the organisation has to this day been unable to complete the RBS, the deadline for which was April 2010.

Because of this, deadline for the RBS had been extended by 18 months, but there is skepticism and wariness among local stakeholders with regard to the ability of CROSQ to keep the extended deadline. Consequently, the Trinidad and Tobago Bureau of Standards (TTBS) submitted to the Ministry of Works and Transport a proposal for developing an NBC for Trinidad and Tobago along similar lines as the RBS proposal. This was done in early 2011, but to date it has not had any positive response from the Ministry.

Past initiatives in this regard included, inter alia, the development of the Caribbean Uniform Building Code (CUBiC) in 1986, a proposal for the development of a Regional Building Standard (RBS) since 2004 and more recently, a proposal for developing an NBC for Trinidad and Tobago.

Recent initiatives such as the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) and the Global Earthquake Model (GEM) have served as catalysts for regional disaster management efforts.

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