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Feliciano Dias: “The Mozambican Engineers Order Is Not Yet Properly Recognised in Society”

Feliciano Dias: “The Mozambican Engineers Order Is Not Yet Properly Recognised in Society”

At a time of great vulnerability to natural disasters, with huge losses on construction works, the Mozambican Engineers Order should be gaining more prominence as an entity that can confer resilience and quality to infrastructures. But that is not what is happening. It has existed for 20 years, is still not very expressive and is going through a series of obstacles.

The entity has a total of 16 attributions foreseen in its statute, being the main one the duty to “lead the progress of engineering putting it at the service of national development”. How is it, though, that it remains ‘anonymous’?

In Portugal, for example, the recent floods led the country’s Engineers Order to heated discussions on how to overcome the damage, stating that those phenomena would only be resolved with drainage tunnels. The Order’s voice was echoed in the Portuguese media, which has not been common in Mozambique. Why was this so?

In DE, the President of the Mozambican Engineers Order, Feliciano Dias, gives a brief retrospective of the life of the association and points out some solutions to the problems that plague the country, especially in the field of civil engineering.

In recent years, Mozambique has been cyclically affected by natural disasters, phenomena that have forced the adoption of resilient construction to avoid the frequent destruction of infrastructures. So what can be done to make housing more resilient to adverse weather events?

First of all, there is something to know: all engineering design must respect a design criterion. If that criterion is respected, infrastructures become resistant. But if it is not, all constructions become vulnerable.

In Japan, for example, there are cyclones and earthquakes every year. But why is the country still standing? Because Japanese officials scale earthquakes, which makes structures more expensive. And we have to pay attention to that. How often do earthquakes occur in Mozambique? Every thousand years? So it is not worth investing in structures with more resistant technology to these phenomena.

Now, if we have earthquakes every day, like in Japan, then it is worth sizing the earthquake. In that country, due to the frequent occurrence of earthquakes, the Japanese erect infrastructures to which they add some techniques in the corner of the buildings, which allow them to move when the phenomenon occurs. In our case, the buildings would suffer damage because we don’t have this component, which makes them very rigid.

In engineering, there are techniques to make buildings resistant to climatic events. We don’t have to invent anything, the wheel has already been invented. Buildings in Mozambique must be resistant, of that there is no doubt.

“In engineering there are techniques to make buildings resistant to climatic events. There is no need to invent anything, the wheel has already been invented. The buildings in Mozambique should be resistant, of that there is no doubt.”

But why is it that Mozambican infrastructures are severely affected by natural disasters?

All infrastructures have a useful life and throughout that period we have to ensure their maintenance. If we don’t guarantee it, the useful life gets shorter and shorter and in many cases here in Mozambique that care is lacking. That is why we have buildings in all cities that are in a very poor state of disrepair. They are so dilapidated that maintenance is very expensive, because people don’t have the money to do it.

In a building, there may be a broken water pipe on the top floor and water starts coming up on the ground floor. The technician then starts palpating the whole pipe to see where the defect is, from top to bottom or from bottom to top, and sometimes he may conclude that it’s actually a badly placed thread. Not long ago, I saw a building here in Maputo city with a slope of six to nine degrees. Everything that falls down can be seen on the side to which the building is inclined. Logically, maintaining this infrastructure is much more expensive at the stage it is now.

If we look at the drainage systems in Maputo city, we see that when it rains, what we find most in the streets are bottles, plastics, paper, etc., objects that are dragged into the gutter and into the pipes, which are already quite old. In some areas of the city they are more than 50 or 100 years old. Therefore, they are no longer fully functional.

In several countries, when it rains, the infrastructure maintenance staff go to the streets to try to relieve the drainage ditches. We do not. And here in Maputo City we already know which are the critical points, so we should place professionals in those places so that, in the occurrence of these situations, there would always be someone to minimise the situation.

We do not have this culture of cleaning and maintenance, which is what is aggravating some situations.

What possible solutions does the Engineers Order foresee to solve these problems?

But who is the Order? The Order is its members. This is a delicate situation because we, as an organisation, still don’t have the recognition we need from society, and this is one of the challenges of this mandate. We, as an Association, still have nothing done. If someone comes to us for advice, we have the door open, but we have no specific activities in that direction.

“This market, especially civil engineering, has a lot of people who don’t understand what they are actually practising.”

And how does the Order look at workers who are in the industry but have no technical education?

That is another point that concerns us. This market, especially in civil engineering, has a lot of people who don’t understand what they are really doing. For example: I’m a designer, I have a project with steps that must be followed to execute it. I must know how to explain what those steps are. A contractor takes this paper and turns it into a construction project. But if he does not know how to read what is there, he will do everything but what is intended.

The concrete, which is a mixture of stone, sand, cement and water, is studied, depending on the intended use and function. The characteristics of that concrete have to be requested. In road works, for example, it has to be a concrete with a minimum tension of 30 megapascals, which means giving it a certain resistance so that when it is hit by a car, it won’t be damaged.

What is happening in many infrastructures built in Mozambique? The concrete is being made by the worker, who has no idea of what he is doing because he requires quality control from the concrete BE25 (one of the concrete measurements). The concrete should be tested and measured regularly because, below this value, some control can be done. Less than BE20 does not need control anymore. All this is standardised in engineering terms, and qualified professionals are the ones who know about these terms.

There are many people who go around building without competence. Many recommend building materials that are not resistant. In certain parts of the country close to the coast, it is normal to see people covering their houses with sheets of 0.3 millimetres, which is not recommendable, because for people living in these areas, it is more certain to cover them with sheets of 0.6 millimetres.

In this case, how can this problem be solved?

There are several issues we can talk about. First, is engineering education. We have to have engineering education that actually teaches what engineering is. If the teaching fails, it will be difficult to fix this.

As a Order we exist for 20 years and one of our tasks is to register all those who want to practice engineering in Mozambique. Unfortunately we have not yet achieved our objective, because we have more or less 6000 members, and the country should have perhaps 30 thousand engineering graduates. The teaching of engineering in Mozambique has some shortcomings, since many teachers have little practice in the field.

In this respect, what actions has the Engineers Order taken to attract more professionals to join the association?

The first thing to say is that to practice engineering in Mozambique it is mandatory to be a member of the Order. The second thing is that we are trying to find some matters of interest at this level, like short courses, to boost some issues, and we are also expanding the Bar Association in the provinces, since each one of them has specific characteristics and problems. For example, the soils of Niassa and Manica must be the best soils that exist in the country, but the soils of a significant part of Nampula, Sofala, Inhambane and Cabo Delgado are weak due to their proximity to the coast. They have no resistance at all. This is why we want to create nuclei with local interests, and currently we already have four. But the idea is to see if by the end of our mandate we can be in all the provinces.

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