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Two-thirds of Dhaka houses illegally built

  • Published at 12:19 am March 31st, 2019
Dhaka houses

This according to a 2018 Rajuk survey of 204,106 buildings in Dhaka

About 66% of the houses in the megacity of Dhaka have been illegally built—in plain view of Rajdhani Unnyan Katripakkha (Rajuk)—in contravention of mandatory building codes.

Urban planners and architects think the unplanned urbanization and negligence by monitoring authorities has led to a situation where Dhaka dwellers are living among "live atom bombs."

A survey of 204,106 buildings over 1,528 square kilometres was conducted, under Rajuk's purview, in Dhaka from January-July 2018; a total of 134,925 buildings, or 66.1% of them, were found to be faulty.

“Of the 195,376 buildings already constructed, problems were found with 131,583 of the buildings. Of the 8,730 buildings under construction—that were surveyed—designs for 3,342 buildings were found to be faulty,” Housing and Public Works Minister SM Rejaul Karim disclosed in parliament in early February this year.

Speaking to the Dhaka Tribune, urban planners claimed buildings which were built without following all security and safety measures are just like atom bombs that can explode at any time.

They fear that thousands of city dwellers will be killed and Dhaka city will not be able to survive if a major disaster like an earthquake or fire hits the city.

Rajuk member (Development Control) Abul Kalam Azad said the actual percentage of buildings that do not adhere to construction codes is much higher than the findings of the survey.

“Though the survey claims that only 66.1% of buildings violate the building codes, Rajuk found that around 95% of the buildings were constructed without adhering to Rajuk’s building codes.”

He claimed that the discrepancy is down to his accounting for minor violations of the building codes. 

The Rajuk official alleged that builders change approved designs while constructing the buildings after bribing the officials concerned.

The Rajuk member also claimed that sometimes builders, or house owners, change the designs according to their own interests, compromising on security and safety measures.

Why is unapproved infrastructure still being built?

Industry insiders and urban planners state that Rajuk is conducting operations to evict the tenants of illegal constructions and demolish unauthorized installations; however, no legal action is being taken against the owners or builders of the buildings.

As a result, the reconstruction of unapproved infrastructure cannot be stopped, they said.

Construction sector experts say design plays an important role in protecting infrastructure from earthquake damage. A good design can considerably reduce the possibility of loss.

Urban expert and architect Iqbal Habib said that Rajuk is responsible for these faulty buildings.

He said: “Considering the safety of Dhaka's city dwellers, Rajuk should identify these buildings as well as make the building lists public.”

Some who construct buildings four-to-five feet wider than their design, are not following the design approved by Rajuk. The foundations are weak, so this is dangerous in any natural disaster; starting with earthquakes.

Renowned civil engineer and former adviser to the caretaker government Professor Jamilur Reza Choudhury said there are fire risks in the entire city, and the massive population and unplanned urbanization adds to the mushrooming of illegal installations.

“The buildings are fitted together, so fire spreads quickly from one house to another.”

“Although Rajuk takes various measures to combat the irregularities by housing companies, when it breaks down extra parts of these buildings the companies rebuild these sections some days later. So we have not been able to stop this yet,” said Rajuk member Abul Kalam Azad.

Most of Dhaka's land was reclaimed from water bodies and people established their buildings by filling the land, without hiring a civil engineer, he claimed.

“When we sent a letter to a listed responsible engineer, the engineer denied responsibility and said he was responsible only for a specific part of the building construction,” he added.

Mehedi Ahmed Ansary, professor at Buet's Department of Civil Engineering, said the risk is not rising because of a lack of design, but because of equipment and materials used.

“While constructing the buildings, the owners compromise with quality by using substandard materials. They are not setting up buildings properly as they are reducing costs in the foundations. Additionally, floods can occur because of poor construction, earthquake, or fire related problems,” he added.

The professor urged Rajuk to increase its manpower to conduct regular surveys and surveillance to improve the situation.

Can third-party solutions help?

Civil engineering experts think Rajuk could appoint third-parties to monitor the construction process to force builders to comply with building codes.

Buet professor Mehedi Ahmed Ansary said that that developed world usually appoints third-parties to inspect building safety and they also monitor the construction processes.

He claimed that they submitted a third-party proposal to Rajuk in 2016 but Rajuk has yet to accept the proposal.

However Rajuk member Abul Kalam Azad said his office has signed an agreement with Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) which will be responsible for monitoring all construction processes.

Azad also hoped that they can sign another agreement with the Asian Development Bank soon over the issue.

Warning tough action against illegal construction, the Housing and Public Works Minister SM Rejaul Karim said risky and uninhabitable buildings are being identified.

“Once the process is complete, we will move ahead [with demolition]," he added.

The minister furthered that the owners of unauthorized buildings will be asked to tear them down first, and the government will take legal measures and dismantle structures if the owners do not comply.