With the multiplication of building collapses across Cameroon, Minister of Housing and Urban Development (Minhdu) Célestine Ketcha Courtès (photo) is calling on mayors to enforce building regulations. "Our country’s headlines are punctuated by the collapse of multiple buildings, both under construction or already completed, in our cities. Those collapses unfortunately cause significant material damage and numerous casualties. Initial findings at the scene of the various incidents suggest that failure to comply with building authorization and construction control regulations is one of the main causes of these incidents," she wrote in a circular letter sent to municipal magistrates on July 28.
On July 25, a four-story building under construction collapsed in the Baladji I district of Ngaoundéré (Adamaoua), killing four people. Two days earlier, a four-story apartment building collapsed at Mobil Guinness, in Douala 5th (Littoral). The accident left around thirty people dead and twenty injured. In both cases, the authorities pointed at the failure to comply with technical construction standards, while town planners called for strict compliance with town-planning norms. Célestine Ketcha Courtès reminds mayors that Cameroon has an extensive legal arsenal for supervising construction operations and, housing in general. This arsenal makes communes the "secular arms" of building construction control in Cameroonian towns and cities.
"Indeed, laws grant [communes] important prerogatives to ensure strict application of the rules to be respected in both the design and construction phases. They also give them the power to impose sanctions in the event of non-compliance with these rules," she reminds. In this legal arsenal, the Minister cites in particular the law of April 21, 2004, governing urban planning in Cameroon. Article 18 of that law gives mayors the power to ensure the dissemination and application of the provisions set out in the general urban planning and construction rules, "using all necessary means". Article 19 of the same law stipulates that no temporary or permanent building may be erected without prior authorization from the competent municipality, which can sanction non-compliers as required.
Article 125 (1) authorizes mayors to order the demolition of walls, buildings, or edifices of any kind, particularly highly likely to collapse. All those provisions make mayors responsible for urban planning in the country. In that context, given the shortcomings observed in the application of those laws, Minister Courtès invites mayors to unfailingly assume the prerogatives granted by laws.
In her circular letter, the government official indicates that climate change is increasing the occurrence of extreme natural phenomena worldwide and, incidentally, the risks of human and socio-economic disasters, particularly in urban areas, due to the greater housing density. "This new situation requires city managers to be more rigorous in complying with urban planning documents, building rules, and standards, which must be considered as relevant instruments for risk prevention and mitigation," she adds.
In that regard, she instructs mayors to set up urban planning documents’ issuance commissions to guarantee that the opinions of all the stakeholders involved in sustainable urban development are taken into account. The commissions must also identify risky buildings and constructions to initiate procedures that would lead to their demolition when necessary. They must also intensify effective "in situ" control of building sites in towns and cities, and organize campaigns to inform citizens of their responsibility as actors in construction control. This is to be achieved by involving neighborhood committees to "develop their urge to comply with urban planning and building regulations and their drive to identify risks and send an early warning to relevant authorities.”
These instructions aim to ensure that the laws governing the construction process in urban centers are unfailingly applied to avoid more tragic incidents. Last February, Célestine Ketcha Courtès toured the ten regions of Cameroon to inform mayors of the legal arsenal governing urban development in Cameroon. At the time, she explained that the tour was organized because municipal magistrates are not familiar with the said texts. "During a cabinet meeting, the Prime Minister drew our attention to the fact that we have an array of misunderstood laws. This encourages uncontrolled occupations and leads to what we see: floods, landslides, buildings collapsing two years after construction, and so on. So it's important that mayors get to grips with town planning regulations," she said on the state radio CRTV.
Patricia Ngo Ngouem