The news that the Ghana National Fire Service (GNFS) is inadequately equipped in terms of logistics to combat fire outbreaks on high-rise buildings beyond five floors has raised an alarm to the general Ghanaian community. This call came in the wake of the devastation caused to human lives and the Grenfell Tower - 24-storey, 220-foot-high (67 m) - in the UK by a fire outbreak on 14 June 2017. It caused at least 80 deaths and over 70 injuries.
Just before the conversation begun on the issue of fire outbreaks in Ghana, the 10th floor the Job 600 building that houses parliamentarians caught fire on July 18, 2017. If the fire had worsened into flames, the fire services would have been helpless without the requisite technology to quench the fire.
Whiles the GNFS advocates for the need to regulate the building of such high-rise structures in the country, there is also a concern to examine and assess the socio-economic benefits of high-rise structures especially in a developing country like Ghana. This concern advocates for the need for government and stakeholders to intervene as a matter of urgency to equip the GNFS with the necessary logistics to fight fire amply on high-rise buildings in the country.
The Emergence of High-Rise Buildings
At 3.51 per cent urbanization rate, about 54 per cent of Ghanaians now live in urban centres (Ghana Statistical Service, 2017). This has resulted in a high demand for infrastructure within the urban centres with limited available land space and extremely high cost of landed property. High-rise buildings or in other terms referred to as skyscrapers are becoming a preferred infrastructure for both developed and developing countries due to several technical and social justifications.
Technically from a real estate perspective, any building above 75 feet (22.86m) is a high-rise structure. The tallest building in the world is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai with 163 floors (828m) with the Shangai Tower in China being the next with 121 floors (632m). In Africa, the highest building is the Great Mosque of Algiers (270m). Others include the Carlton Culture (223m) and Ponte City Apartment (173m) both in South Africa.
In recent times, development of high-rise buildings in Ghana is also becoming preferable due to its several socio-economic benefits. Notable example of such building in Ghana is the Villagio Vista and Villagio Alto. The latter is currently the tallest residential facility in the country with 27 floors. Others include Villagio, Azure (18 floors), World Trade Center, Accra (17 floors), Heritage Towers (16 floors), Cedi House (14 floors) and several others which are proposed or under construction with floors ranging from 8 to 40.
Justification for High-Rise Buildings
The economic justification of high-rise buildings is many. First, Elsewhere, the construction of high-rise building has therefore been used as a mechanism to intensify the utilization of physically limited lands. This intensification process thus spreads the cost of the land over many possible owners, who may hold various interests in the property. House prices as a result fall and affordability of housing improved. They save or conserve land space whiles accommodating more residents as compared to shorter buildings. Therefore, high-buildings like flats and condominiums, properly and appropriated designed are potential solutions to the over 1.7 million housing deficit in Ghana. Other reasons for high-rise buildings include:
- They are much more economical as buying a small piece of land and constructing a high-rise building is extremely affordable than purchasing a widespread land space for the same project;
- They provide an excellent natural ventilation with plenty natural light and reduces the effect of noise and street pollution;
- High-rise buildings are a better option for the idea of a green building since they are more lit, airy and provide more surface area to install solar panels;
- Aesthetically, high-rise buildings add more value to the general infrastructural development of cities. This is seen especially at night times with the lighting effects of such buildings;
- They also provide an excellent serene atmosphere for residential and industrial operations;
- High-rise buildings also turn to provide a more secured environment for general operations for its occupants compared to single buildings.
Way Forward: Proposals
The socio economic benefits of high-rise buildings especially in a developing country like Ghana can therefore not be under estimated. Since the environmental impact, health and safety conditions of occupants in such building are at stake, the problem of logistical constraint of the GNFS to combat fire on high-rise buildings above five floors is very pathetic and requires and urgent intervention. Given this potential, the call by the GNFS to regulate the construction of high-rise buildings can only be interpreted as a need to ensure that the necessary health and safety facilitates are in place and the requisite technologies procured to enable them respond adequately to such issues when they arise. In this regard, it is very necessary that;
- Strategic measures are implemented by government and stakeholders as a matter of urgency to equip the GNFS to enable the organization administer its mandate effectively and adequately;
- The Town and Country Planning Department should be equipped to execute its mandate in monitoring, enforcing and ensuring compliance in relation to building codes and standards;
- An appropriate regulatory framework for health and safety should be developed to support the planning, design, construction and maintenance of high-rise buildings;
- Stakeholders must be actively involved to ensure that safety fire acts are strictly considered in the design, construction and usage of high-rise buildings since property and human life are at stake.
The Ghanaian adage that “a friend’s beard on fire is a warning to you to fetch water and put by yours (beard)” and “we must drink water in expectation of the Harmattan” resonate very well with the concerns of stakeholders. The outbreak of fire is a threat to environmental stability, property, human life and eventually national development. Any concern regarding the outbreak and fighting of fire especially involving infrastructure must, therefore, be probed and treated as an emergency.
The writer is the Chairman of Construction Sector of the Association of Ghana Industries.
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