The Government has indicated that a significant amount of the planned $2.5B new debt is to be used to build new infrastructure. Before spending any of this money on new infrastructure, let me suggest that the Government meaningfully regulate the construction industry.
Having trained over 500 construction personnel around the Caribbean, I can confirm that much of our infrastructure is indeed substandard. I have spent the past 15 years providing explicit evidence supporting the accurateness of this claim, and while some countries have heeded and improved, Barbados has gone backwards.
The United Nations recently assessed Barbados’ infrastructure and concluded in its Global Assessment Report (2013) that Barbados is expected to suffer probable maximum losses of over 80% of its gross fixed capital formation (buildings, equipment and infrastructure) if we are impacted by a moderate earthquake, or hurricane. This is the UN’s worst possible assessment category. For comparison, the UN predicts that neighbouring St Lucia is only expected to suffer probable maximum losses of 10% to 20%. When will we wake up and realise that we are doing something terribly wrong?
If the Government is determined to put money into new construction, then why not also strengthen what already exists? The cost to strengthen a house is in the order of 3% of the construction cost of the house. So we either spend around 3% now, or at least 80% later. We either go through a major earthquake or hurricane with minimal adverse impact, or we experience the misery of a national catastrophe. The UN has determined that we are currently on the latter path, but if we are serious, we can change in a few months.
Strengthening properties requires both disposable income and knowledge of how to strengthen. To address the disposable income issue, the Government can consider giving people a choice of either paying the new municipal solid waste tax, or using that money to strengthen their properties.
To address the knowledge deficit, Walbrent College has developed a Home Strengthening Guide that provides information to economically strengthen a house against earthquakes and hurricanes. The Guide can be printed and given to a few contractors to complete for pricing. It is freely available on Walbrent.com (President’s Blog section).
It appears that the dire warnings about the dramatic decline in construction standards in Barbados over the past 15 years was not convincing. Therefore, let me present the likely scenario in a more dramatic way.
80% of our schools are expected to collapse on 80% of our students and teachers.
80% of our public buildings are expected to collapse on 80% of our politicians and public servants.
80% of our hotels are expected to collapse on 80% of our visitors and hotel employees.
80% of our commercial buildings are expected to collapse on 80% of private sector employers and their employees.
80% of our churches are expected to collapse on 80% of congregants and pastors.
80% of our houses are expected to collapse on 80% of Barbadian families.
Are we awake yet? Some may consider this to be alarmist. They should be aware that earthquakes give no warning, and an estimated 316,000 Haitians died unnecessarily under substandard buildings. This is a necessary alarm. Wake up!!!
Grenville Phillips II is a chartered structural engineer and President of Walbrent College.
UN Global Assessment Report (2013), pg 110, Figure 7.4
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