“No one can deny the booming of the construction industry in Ethiopia,” Dr. Esayas Gebreyouhannes Ftwi Featured

11 Jun 2017

Dr. Esayas Gebreyouhannes Ftwi is an Associate Professor at Addis Ababa Institute of Technology School of Civil and Environmental Engineering.  He  obtained  his Ph.D. in Concrete Engineering: Structural Performance Evaluation of Reinforced Concrete Members, University of Tokyo, Japan and his MSc in Concrete Engineering: Development of Constructive Model for Cracked Normal and High Strength Concrete Under Shear Fatigue from the University of Tokyo.

He is Board Member of Japan Ethiopia Alumni Society, Africa Material Research Science, Ethiopian Academy of Sciences, National Coordinator for Ethiopian Building Codes Standard Revision of Existing Codes and development of new ones, Technical Committee Member, among others. Dr. Esayas was awarded as a Publisher of one of the Three Outstanding Journal papers of the year 2008 on Journal of Advanced Concrete Technology, Best Research Paper of Japan Concrete Institute of the Year 2008 (JCI).

He played a part in projects like structural assessment of Precast Beam-slab Units for low cost housing, Material selection and Mix-design of HCB made of light weight aggregates, Effect of drying shrinkage on ultimate static capacity and Fatigue Performance of Shear critical RC beams, Structural Assessment of Self-healing concrete, and the rest. The Ethiopian Herald had a short stay with Dr. Esayas.   Excerpts:

Why do we need to have building code?

When a country invests on infrastructure such as housing, bridges, tunnels and dames, the investment has to pass through harmonized and standardized documents, design philosophies and others in view of the fact that they are core elements in engineering.

These core elements consist of safety, function and economy. Thus they need to be addressed in harmonized manner. In fact, there are minimum requirements in terms of safety, economy, and environmental impacts. Unless we have a related standard, it will be very difficult to harmonize and make certain its safety and other related aspects. That is why we necessitate codes.

While we are on the subject, it is very difficult to have a harmonized international code as there are country dependent issues. For instance, the seismic nature of Ethiopia is quite different for the reason that we are in the rift valley region that we are different from other countries due to our culture and way of living. In reality, an assortment of countries cannot have a uniform code; however countries can possess a uniform framework. But from this framework, each country can contextualize own code based on its geographical, climatic, culture and other related conditions. That is why we need to have our own code. Therefore, codes need to address different issues.

How can we ease the existing challenges? 

In my opinion, taking the Ethiopian construction industry to a new chapter of success requires the involvement of a range of construction companies, higher learning institutions and so forth. If the government works single-handedly, it would be difficult to achieve the intended target in next to no time.

As for me, there should be a coordinated effort to ensure the quality standard. In spite of the fact that the topic under discussion is a huge challenge, I am glad that the Ministry of Construction is coming to the right track  as it is being felt by the Ministry.  That is why we have a separate ministry for the Ministry of Construction. I accept as true that the Ministry will take the lead, tighten regulations, specify new standards, nurture skilled people and promote research. If we have integrated efforts, we can ease the existing challenges within the shortest time possible.

What should be done to take the construction sector to a new level of success?   

Above all, the human resources should be given due weigh and attention. More to the point, nurturing or capacitating people to the required level of expertise should be given  number one priority. Furthermore, building the capacity of contractors and consultants plays a paramount role in the construction industry. We need to have local born companies in view of the fact that we are facing challenges from international contractors. Our government has to take the risk to capacitate the local people so that all the construction industry will be run by our own people and companies.

Correspondingly, promoting research and pumping some investment to the research component help harvest the fruit of success almost immediately.  Above and beyond, the government should be able to make sure that the new document will reach everywhere. Besides, the level of the comprehensiveness of the design is common in our country as the treatment is shallow and not seen in depth. As for me, the gaps should be bridged in next to no time. We should also make sure that the designs are made by tremendously qualified engineers.

How can we solve problems  related to ethics in the construction sector? 

First and foremost, ethics is a national concern. It should be established from the early generation. I believe education plays a very important role in terms of shaping mentality. We all need to fight and start working from the scratch. That is the point where we tackle this challenge.

As a result, some people hunt for opportunities. Unless, we work on the moral values, it is really very tough. I am not saying that all contractors are unethical but I am of the opinion that education plays an important role to enhance ethical values and hence this has to be done from the grass roots level.

How do you assess the performance of students in the engineering field?

Due to the policy, some 40 per cent of the placement is engineering. This being the case, we have huge number of students in the engineering sector. The first, second and third generation universities of the country are producing a large number of students every year and therefore graduates are contributing their share for the development of the country. 

If you ask me the level of the graduates or the quality is not as it used to be in the past and this has to do with expanding the domain. In reality, in this kind of situation, there is a little bit that we compromise despite there is really a quality concern and a lot remains to be done on our side for the industry. We should be able to bridge the gaps by capacitating the graduates through training and other means.

What are the requirements for a good standard building?

Standard buildings are those buildings which are planned, designed and constructed as per the code. In other words, if we design as per the code strictly, we can ensure the safety, proper functionality and economy. Hence, this is what we call standard building. We should make sure that it will serve the purpose to the intended designed period. If we design the building for one hundred years, we should make sure that it serves the purpose exclusive of any submissible issues for one hundred years.

What is your take on the different buildings manifested in different parts of the country?  

There is a booming of construction in most parts of the country. Without any exaggeration, it is common to see attention-grabbing high rising buildings in Addis Ababa and other cities. This is a happy news for the country as it signals that the country has almost moved one step up. When we see in the context of Addis Ababa, it is good for the development as it contributes to the image of the city. However, from my perspective, there are some points we have to see carefully at. As there are high rising buildings, they are going to accommodate large number of people and the parking has to be seen vigorously. The other one is the availability of green areas because a city has to be habitable enough for the people. There is a lot that need to be done from the green perspective.

As a final point, is there anything you would like to convey?

I want to talk about codes for they play a paramount role in the construction industry apart from creating a room not only for Ethiopian contractors but also for international contractors as it helps them fit into construction industries. Thus, having a global nature of course is very important. One is the material standardization issue. I believe this will create a lot of job opportunities for the people in the cities.

We should involve in standardization. I can give you a simple example, we can have people who wash sand and sell it to the market by reducing the contamination on the sand. This requires a huge workforce and create job opportunities in addition to contributing to the quality of construction. By the way, it will not be limited to the sand and  gravel.

All construction input materials should be standardized. This standardization process should be given due weight and attention. The other focus is, I believe in the notation of skill development.

Unless we do a lot of research, we cannot make use of our own local materials. If we do research, we can standardize these materials and integrate with the existing code.

That will enable us to make use of resources efficient. The other is regulation. Regulatory bodies need to be very strong. We need to have an independent institution in the construction sector  for the reason that a second check is always very important.

We should be able to know how to minimize our failures and errors. Looking at the experience of the highly developed countries, we need to have a separate design review institute as we have projects which failed following design issues. But If we have independent institutions for design, it will contribute to the quality of the construction.

Thank you for your time !

BY ADDISALEM MULAT

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