Government targets poorly constructed buildings amid a string of collapses

Buildings are crumbling in Lagos, Nigeria. A warehouse caved in on workers Nov. 28. A two-story building undergoing renovation collapsed on Dec. 12. And just three days later, seven workers constructing a new government office were trapped when the structure gave way. And there have been many others. It’s a widespread problem in the city stressed by rapid population growth.

In the face of this recent wave of accidents, the Lagos State government is planning a proactive assault on the city’s most dangerous buildings by launching a year-long demolition effort. Officials are targeting hundreds of buildings for demolition, focusing on those already identified as being distressed, Business Day reports.

The Ministry of Urban Planning and Physical Development will lead the effort, mainly targeting buildings that are more than 50 years-old but also some newer structures as well. In 2011, 22 buildings in Lagos have been demolished by either the state or by building owners, and officials are greatly expanding efforts in 2012 to fight the epidemic of poorly constructed buildings before they collapse and kill.

The demolition effort is part of the implementation of a statewide urban planning law passed in 2010 aimed at cutting down on illegal construction, which has increased as the city struggles to take in a rapidly growing population. In 1997, metropolitan Lagos was home to about 12 million people. It’s expected that by 2015 the population will have more than doubled, making Lagos the world’s third most populous metropolitan area behind Tokyo and Mumbai.

As the population rises, new buildings are popping up to accommodate them, often built by untrained professionals. To call the buildings substandard implies that there’s any standard to begin with, and the Nigerian government has only recently began implementing and enforcing a national building code that had been mired in bureaucratic holdups for years.

But with a high rate of poverty and some slums with populations over 100,000, even tearing things down and building better is going to be difficult. Some in the Makoko slum worry that the new rules will be seen as an excuse to bulldoze the informal homes built in the slum areas. Whether that turns out to be the case will be hard to prove, as the government can rightly claim that illegally built structures could potentially pose a collapse threat. It seems more likely that buildings in the formal parts of the city will be targeted, though. But as the population continues its dramatic growth, Lagos and Nigeria will eventually have to focus less on tearing down poorly built structures and instead on replacing them with buildings that can both stay standing and absorb the city’s rising numbers.

Photo credit: Akintunde Akinleye / Reuters

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