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This house that stands so divided

There is need, says CDEMA deputy executive director Elizabeth Riley, for more education and training of our designers and builders in the well established techniques for eliminating or reducing property losses by hurricane or earthquake. And at the heart of it all, she believes, is the “critical” requirement of legislated national building standards.

“We can even go further,” argues the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency officer, “by mandating good standards and the continuing education of engineers and architects on how to design against the natural hazards prevalent in the Caribbean.”

This as Ms Riley addressed the recent opening ceremony of a regional code of practice for the construction of houses course at the Samuel Jackman Prescod Polytechnic in Wildey –– the result of a partnership between the SJPP and the CDEMA Coordinating Unit.

Ms Riley’s submissions are not by any means new to our ears. They pretty much form the monthly and yearly beseeching of our very own Grenville Phillips II, who has been at pains to point out the benefit of construction to the standards of the Barbados National Building Code –– with moderate to little success, it would appear.

Not only are the resilience to natural hazards of our homes and our own personal safety increased in applying the national building standards to house building, but the expense of construction is actually less. Which begs the question: what good and valid reason could there be for foregoing the standards of the Barbados National Building Code? Why indeed then do builders happily construct substandard houses?

Our structural engineer Grenville Phillips II believes it is because our contractors and artisans are simply unaware of how easy it is for them to actually build houses properly; and that they are unwittingly so because they –– surely most of them –– have never read the Barbados National Building Code, published 21 years ago, and still available, as we understand it, from the Barbados National Standards Institute.

Mr Phillips has suggested in his many publicly published missives that the reason why Barbadian builders generally have not been reading or generally applying the national building standards is because the Government has not been insisting they do.

In one of his letters to the Press, Mr Phillips wrote: “Whenever I am driving through a new housing development, I habitually stop and inspect the building construction work. Sometimes I photograph what I observe. I have yet to observe a house being constructed to the minimum structural standards of the Barbados National Building Code.”

That was a few years ago. Maybe, by his harping, he must have come across one by now!

But the structural engineer has not restricted his review to privately constructed homes. He has been equally critical of houses being built for or by the Government. And we may surmise that if there is a general indifference towards the Barbados National Building Code, that there will be questions to be raised too about some commercial constructions.

CDEMA’s Ms Riley alluded to Tropical Storm Tomas’ islandwide damage to Barbados in 2010. Estimated at $15 million, it would include impairment to some 1,200 homes. No doubt, the low quality of construction, of which Mr Phillips steadily accuses Barbados, will have contributed to this.

Ms Riley says there are “fundamental issues pertaining to housing design and construction in the region, which if addressed could significantly increase the resilience of our housing stock, and reduce the economic fallout from hazard impacts”.

Adds the CDEMA head: “The reality is that resilience can be incorporated most economically and effectively during construction.”

Well, what are we waiting for?

Must Mr Phillips be constrained to put up more and more pictures and detailed descriptions on the social media to terrify us homeowners and prospective homeowners –– and hopefully the Government –– to our senses?

In the aftermath of the early morning February 18 shake of Barbados, Mr Phillips was minded to inform us that 90 per cent of the buildings in Barbados did not have adequate shear walls, protectors against earthquakes, as specified by the Barbados National Building Code. What does this say for our housing stock in a zone now predicted to see increased seismic activity?

The word is our 21-year-old Barbados National Building Code is a mere set of draft standards, yet to be proclaimed law.

We know there can be no enforcement without law. What will it take? A real-real earthquake?

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