Can authorities ensure safety of high-rise buildings in Kyrgyzstan capital?

BISHKEK (TCA) — The Bishkek City Planning Council has not yet decided whether to allow or not to build a 20-storey Hualin hotel in the place of the Naryn restaurant located in the heart of Bishkek, near the Victory Square.

This week, the Union of Architects and the Association of Designers of Kyrgyzstan asked the Mayor of Bishkek to hold an international competition for the hotel project on this site.

The Naryn restaurant building has been empty for 12 years. However, Swiss architects who recently visited Bishkek believe that the building should be carefully restored as the cultural heritage of the Soviet period in Bishkek, even if the authorities do not recognize its historical value now.

In June, MPs proposed to restore this building and place a Palace of Youth in it but the building owners want a five-star hotel there. The Mayor of Bishkek Albek Ibraimov said that the municipality cannot object the private owner. The 0.5 hectare land plot is in temporary use for 49 years. However, the new building should match the architecture of the city and should be designed in the national style, he added. In general, it is a good investment for the city, the Mayor concluded.

According to the design project, the height of the hotel will be about 90 meters. Bishkek does not have necessary equipment, in case of fire, to extinguish it at such an altitude, the Mayor said.

“If investors build a 20-storey hotel, they should buy a 100-meter fire tower. We have only one fire engine with a tower of 50 meters that can reach a 16-floor height. This equipment is quite expensive,” he said.

There are only five firefighting trucks in Kyrgyzstan for buildings of nine floors and below.

Fire safety

The number of buildings above nine floors is increasing in Kyrgyzstan. Meanwhile, in case of a fire, it is very difficult to extinguish it.

Two major fires occurred in high-rise buildings under construction in Bishkek last year. One of them started at the 13th floor and spread to a neighboring house, and only all 10 firefighting groups of Bishkek managed to extinguish it.

There were cases when new buildings were constructed in violation of the law, which in the future may have tragic consequences. Last week, the Bishkek Prosecutor’s Office instituted criminal proceedings against officials of the Bishkek department of the State Technical and Ecological Inspectorate, who allowed the construction of a high-rise building in violation of fire safety.

On July 20, the Fire Supervision Department carried out a check of fire passes on the site where two multi-story houses are being built, for compliance with the law on fire protection. Experts revealed that there is no passage for fire-fighting tracks on the south face of the buildings.

The Inspectorate officials knew about the violations but did not take measures to suspend construction to eliminate them.

According to the Emergency Ministry, 1,327 cases of fire, which killed 37 people, were registered in Kyrgyzstan for the first six months of this year.

These fires would have fewer human casualties if special equipment could have arrived at the facilities on time. Bishkek residents often blame firefighters for slowness but the Emergency Ministry did not agree with such statements.

Monitoring the efficiency of the firefighters’ work shows that fire engines arrive late due to difficulties in reaching the houses. For example, during a recent fire in one of the southern microdistricts of Bishkek, a fire engine arrived in half an hour because the residents of the apartment building parked their cars around it and blocked the entrance for the fire trucks.

Seismic resistance

Seismic resistance tests are currently not conducted in Bishkek (and all of Kyrgyzstan) despite the entire territory of Bishkek is located in an 8- to 9-magnitude zone.

Such tests of residential high-rise buildings are labor-intensive and costly, the State Agency for Architecture and Construction (Gosstroy) said, adding that it does not have such equipment and funds to buy it.

According to surveys conducted by the State Institute for Earthquake Resistant Building Construction and Design, about 30% of the territory of the country is in the zone with increased seismicity. Implementation of the Seismic Safety Program in Kyrgyzstan until 2019 could allow taking preventive measures and solving issues related to forecasting, monitoring and warning of earthquakes, and increasing the reliability of buildings.

The program provides for development of seismic zoning maps of the country together with the Seismology Institute and the Emergency Ministry, and for the assessment of the seismic risk of large settlements (regional and district centers), as well as modernization of testing laboratories. However, the Program cannot be implemented without sufficient funding, Gosstroy said.

Kyrgyzstan is located in a seismically dangerous zone, and according to local building regulations, several years ago construction of large-panel buildings above 9 floors and of buildings constructed by the method of continuous formwork of over 16 floors was forbidden.

Tree year ago, Gosstroy allowed to construct buildings up to 24 floors. The first houses of 18 or more floors are experimental, and they should be built according to special technical documents issued by the Earthquake Engineering Institute.

The territory of Japan, Singapore or Malaysia is not less seismically active than Kyrgyzstan’s but they build skyscrapers. The main problem is to ensure high quality of construction materials and works.

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Times of Central Asia