Infrastructure Minister Claver Gatete has revealed that whatever remains of the deadly asbestos roofing material on public buildings will be removed within one year.
The commitment comes after the government missed several targets it had set since the exercise began nearly 10 years ago to remove the cancerous roofing material from the public building.
“We are going to remove all the asbestos and we are starting very soon to remove all the asbestos on public buildings,” he said in an interview on Friday.
Fresh data from the Rwanda Housing Authority (RHA) indicates that over 633,000 square meters of lethal asbestos roofing material remains intact on both private (churches and other individuals) and public (government) buildings.
Of the remaining asbestos roofing above, more than half is on government buildings, and Minister Gatete said the government will have removed it within the next year.
“That’s what we are planning as government,” he said in the interview, confirming that one year is the deadline the government has given itself.
Freddy Bizimana, RHA’s Asbestos Removal Project Inspector in Charge of City of Kigali, told this newspaper on Friday that if the government succeeds in removing all asbestos roofing on its own buildings, private sector members will be inspired to follow suit.
“The government wants to be an example in this process and then inspire the private sector,” he said in a telephone interview.
The official also reiterated that to remove asbestos roofing on public buildings, the government needs to invest at least Rwf4.5 billion.
While the funding shortage has previously been the main barrier in the process, Bizimana said negotiations are ongoing with various potential private sector partners who may be contracted to remove it and be paid in installments.
Minister Gatete said the state is already committed to ending the risk of asbestos, and cash in this phase will not be the primary problem.
“There is money to do it and whoever we hire will be hired to do it,” he said.
Efforts to eradicate asbestos began in October 2009, when the Cabinet gave a six-month period within which individuals or institutions with asbestos on their roofs would have been eliminated.
But with a restricted amount of qualified engineers combined with restricted resources, that goal proved too ambitious.
In 2013, the government estimated that asbestos roofing had to be cleaned up and disposed of by 2016, an exercise estimated to cost Rwf23 billion.
Since then, however, things have altered with the cost of removing asbestos falling due to a greater amount of qualified engineers performing the exercise in relation to the enhanced amount of burial locations for asbestos.
Asbestos, a mineral, has in the past been mixed in many types of building materials and other purposes as it has been recognized with positive characteristics of high durability and fire resistance.
But in the 1980s, after mass production of asbestos materials, it was found that inhalation of very thin asbestos fibers causes severe respiratory diseases such as lung cancer, which can not be completely healed even by the world’s most sophisticated medical technology.