Bangladesh making critical progress in code implementation and enforcement
Bangladesh, a densely populated country in South Asia, is the eighth-most populous country in the world with more than 161 million people. Known for its natural beauty — with rolling hills, river deltas and lush mangrove forests — Bangladesh has grown immensely during the last 50 years to become the second-biggest economy in South Asia and a major world player in exports, including textiles and ready-made garments, amounting to more than $35 billion. The world’s second-largest ready-made garments exporter just behind China — 3.5 million workers in 4,825 garment factories produce goods for export to the global market — it supplies clothing to such well-known companies as Gap, Target, Macy’s, Calvin Klein and American Apparel.
So the world took notice in April 2013 when a large, poorly sited and poorly constructed garment factory in Bangladesh’s capital of Dhaka collapsed and killed more than 1,000 people and injured several thousand more. This was in addition to garment factory fires, including one just a few months earlier that killed 200 and injured two hundred more. Those incidents, and others like it, led to a growing movement for a safer environment in Bangladesh, said S.K. Ghosh, president of S.K. Ghosh Associates LLC, part of the International Code Council’s family of solutions.
The country already had a set of building codes, albeit outdated, said Ghosh. They were adopted in 2006, after some 13 years of languishing in various levels of government. The problem with those codes, explained Ghosh, who was born in India, is that for myriad reasons — including societal, educational and governmental — there was no framework for code enforcement. Very soon, however, there will be.
Updated Bangladesh building code approved
Ghosh said with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s consent, the Bangladesh National Building Code 2020 was recently approved, following stakeholder consultations, review and revision by many levels of government. More specifically, he said, the code, essentially completed in 2017, now includes specific enforcement procedures. It still needs to be published by the government to become official, he added, which should happen soon. While the specific provisions are not common knowledge yet, Ghosh said the 2020 code is a step in the right direction and should help get the country on the right path.
When they began getting serious about implementing and enforcing codes, officials with Bangladesh’s Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha, or RAJUK, the Capital Development Authority of the Government of Bangladesh, reached out to the Code Council for assistance. In turn, Ghosh said, the Code Council reached out to him, as they have in the past, to help offer input. “I have been working with building codes in the United States since the early 1980s,” Ghosh said. “And I am quite familiar with the culture in Bangladesh.”
An understanding of the culture and history are important factors in developing a successful building regulatory system, said Mark Johnson, executive vice president and director of business development for the International Code Council. As was also realizing the country needed to update its code enforcement infrastructure as well, including providing the skill sets necessary to do the inspections and enforcement. “Developing the necessary skill sets needed to effectively implement the Bangladesh National Building Code 2020 will be a challenging task,” Johnson explained. “There is much work to be done there.”
He and Ghosh said that’s something the United Nations and the World Bank, which rates Bangladesh’s investment capabilities, noticed a decade or so ago. In addition to man-made calamities due to a lack of inspection and enforcement, those officials noted that Bangladesh suffers from natural disasters — such as floods, tropical cyclones, tornadoes, and tidal bores — almost every year. There is a risk of earthquakes as well.
Building Code roundtable in Karwan Bazar
Prior to approval of the 2020 edition, Bangla newspaper Prothom Alo — in association with the International Code Council, Smart Development Engineers and RAJUK — organized a roundtable in Bangladesh titled “Enforcing Building Code and Strategies to Implement.”
RAJUK Chief Engineer Abdul Latif Helaly said building code compliance would lower the risk of disaster by 80 percent. Mohammad Abu Sadeque, executive director of the Center for Housing and Building Research, said the main challenge in enforcing the building code is the absence of implementation policies as they are mostly ad-hoc and incongruous. He also said that failing to bring uniformity among different policies would become a stumbling block in implementing the building code.
Khan Mahmud Amanat, professor at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, said there should be offices of Building Regulatory Authority in every district and they should cover every building in the country. Faizur Rahman Khan, managing director at Building Technology & Ideas Ltd., said the authorities could give incentives to those who conform to the building code.
Noting the importance of proper oversight, Ghosh, who serves as code implementation and enforcement team leader for RAJUK’s Urban Resilience Project, said at the roundtable, “about 99 percent of the buildings don’t take out occupancy certificates. The authorities should give this issue due importance.”
Likewise, Jalal Ahmed, president of the Institute of Architects of Bangladesh, urged the authorities to organize training programs for the stakeholders for a successful implementation of the Bangladesh National Building Code. Ghosh said proper training is critical, because not having suitable training and certification programs also was a major factor in holding back effective implementation and enforcement of the country’s National Building Code.
Also at the roundtable, Md Emdadul Islam, former chief engineer of RAJUK, said it was necessary to update the building code every one or two years, something the International Code Council does with its codes every three years. Lamenting that the 2006 building code still in effect was developed in 1993 and that the only update since then has still not been put into effect, national professor and University of Asia Pacific Vice Chancellor Jamilur Reza Choudhury said, “Perhaps no other country follows such an old building code.”
While updating the 2020 version of the Bangladesh National Building Code would be optimal, Ghosh said there are no plans to do so, at least for now. And he’s happy that the Bangladesh National Building Code 2020 includes at least the framework for inspection and enforcement. “So far, so good,” Ghosh said. “I feel like we have made some progress.”