Columnists Features

Cost of high boundary wall fences: Security or deathtrap?

THE high rate of crime in Zambia around the 80’s and 90’s brought about the construction of high security boundary walls in residential areas, especially the low to medium density areas.
The trend has continued to this very day without the consciousness of noting the pros and cons of undertaking such decisions when building.
It is apparent and evident to this date that when one wants to undertake a residential development the first thing that comes to mind is to secure their property against all odds regardless of the value of the property.
Suffice to say that over the years it has become a culture and trend in Zambia to be security conscious when constructing a property to an extent where we have contractors that have emerged as specialists in boundary walls.
It may also appear that when there was a downturn in construction projects during the period 1995 to as late as 2010, the most sought after project was erecting boundary walls.
It can also be noted that most landlords would rather spend on more aesthetically appealing boundary wall than the main building.
In residential development as the case may be, one is not looking at the cost of putting up the wall fence but the benefit in terms of being a deterrent to thieves or as an attraction to would-be tenants of a building for rent.
The question is, do the owners of property derive the cost benefits from these high boundary walls?
A look at typical types of these boundary walls around the suburbs leaves much to be desired in terms of appreciating the beauty of residences.
The walls themselves are in most cases dull gray and drab or simply ugly. One can hardly tell what is behind these high walls unless access is granted.
The cost can also be associated with deteriorated social integration of neighbours. We now see a culture where neighbours do not interact with each other.
Worst of all, we expect these boundary walls to act as a deterrent to thieves but it turns out they are an attraction to break-ins, which can be of diverse consequences, depending on which type of robbery one faces on a fateful day.
On January 8, this year, Lusaka experienced a heavy rainstorm, 4 people died and 14 were seriously wounded. His Excellency the President, Edgar Lungu, on visiting the affected areas and mourners, expressed his disappointment with the local authority, in particular the Building Inspectorate, for not doing enough to regulate the construction of acceptable structures around the city.
A look at building standards reveals that most of these boundary walls do not conform to the building codes regulated by the local authorities.
If we take a look at our boundary walls, some of them appear to be in a range of 2.0m – 4.0m, which is against the building code that stipulates the 1.8m to 2.0m maximum.
One wonders whether property owners do apply for building permits to erect these boundary walls or, if they do, whether our local authorities inspect and supervise the construction of boundary walls.
In most instances, one can deduce that these walls do not adhere to standards. Now that we are faced with these boundary walls that are not conforming to building standards do we change the building codes to suit what is existing or carry out massive inspection to fine property owners who have defaulted or penalise them to adhere to standards?
Well here is why we need to take this irregularity into serious consideration; over the years these so called security wall fences built to deter thieves have turned out to be deathtraps than security barriers.
Society has lost loved ones as a result of poorly constructed boundary walls. Property owners in the end are faced with lawsuits and hefty compensation for lost lives.
Can these costs or losses be compared to what we are trying to secure behind the walls? One can argue that property owners may lose lives if attacked by robbers, but the chances of this happening is one in a million and in most cases is due to owners’ resistance to the demands of thieves.
The author is Technical Director, JKL-Associates.

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