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Government aided the removal of about 1.4 million (82.4 per cent) square metres of asbestos roofing from public and private buildings in the country as of October 31, according to the Rwanda Housing Authority.

The latest progress is in comparison to 1.69 million square metres of roofs countrywide that were made of asbestos. Some 300, 124 square metres of asbestos roofing still need to be removed. If poorly disposed of, asbestos fibre can be a dangerous indoor air pollutant and hazardous to human and animal health.

Health experts say the more one is exposed to asbestos, the greater the chance of developing lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma, a type of cancer that develops from the thin layer of tissue that covers many of the internal organs. Asbestosis is a chronic lung condition that is caused by prolonged exposure to high concentrations of asbestos fibers in the air.

According to RHA, in general, an area of 81.8 per cent of government buildings no longer has asbestos roofing while

“Whoever has materials made of asbestos should first consider health and save lives. As the government strives to eliminate asbestos, people who still have them should follow suit to ensure their elimination,” the RHA stated.

Asbestos, once a popular material used in roofing, was praised for its durability and fire-resistant properties, but scientists later discovered that there were numerous health risks associated with having asbestos in house roofs.

Efforts to eradicate asbestos roofing in Rwanda started in October 2009.

How provinces are faring in removing asbestos

Eastern Province leads in terms of eliminating asbestos, with a removal rate of 92.7 per cent.

The City of Kigali stands at 92.5 per cent, Northern Province at 84.9 per cent, Western Province at 75.1 per cent and Southern Province at 73.6 per cent.

The coordinator of the asbestos removal project, Mathias Ntakirutimana, told The New Times that at least 900 companies were trained to help remove asbestos roofing across the country.

“We are sensitizing people to change their mindset. They should understand that it is no longer difficult to remove asbestos because many technicians have been trained. They can replace asbestos with affordable iron sheets. It is not something we are requiring them to do in one day.

They should have a plan and a target,” he said.

Ntakirutimana said the government trained builders’ cooperative members, police officers, land managers, members of the reserve forces, and correctional service officers, among others.

“These also help to report cases of buildings that still have asbestos. The removal of asbestos is very urgent,” he said.

In 2013, the government estimated that there was more than one million square metres of asbestos roofing that had to be cleared and disposed of by 2016, an exercise that was estimated to cost Rwf23 billion.

However, things later changed since the price to remove asbestos was reduced as a result of a growing number of trained asbestos removal technicians in addition to the increased number of asbestos burial sites.

Jean Rodrigue Munyaneza, a civil engineer, in 2020, told The New Times that the cost a private owner would incur amounted to a little over Rwf3 million. For an average 300 square metre family house, he said, the total cost would involve up to Rwf500,000 to remove the asbestos, Rwf1.5 million to buy new iron sheets, and Rwf600,000 for labour and painting, among others.

This is in addition to the usually unforeseen refurbishment or construction costs that go with it.

One also has to foot the bill of transporting the removed asbestos to a designated dumping site for safe disposal.

Talking about budget constraints, on Thursday, November 9, Alphonse Rukaburandekwe, the Director General of Rwanda Housing Authority, told The New Times that “currently, budget is not the main challenge to eliminate asbestos since the government put in more effort and achieved the asbestos elimination rate of more than 80 per cent.”

He said owners of buildings with asbestos were informed and asked to fast-track the removal of asbestos. - Michel Nkurunziza, The New Times

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