Drains on the brain

Clarification on drainage legislation is needed to avoid health risks

Expat contractors work with their home codes, which aren't suited for the region.
Expat contractors work with their home codes, which aren't suited for the region.

Clarification on drainage legislation is needed to avoid major health risks, experts have warned. MEP Middle East analyses what can be done

With the focus of the building industry switching to high rise and large scale developments, the need for clear and unilateral legislation on drainage systems becomes ever more important.

As residential owners the world over can attest, a poorly installed drainage system can cause a host of problems, ranging from flooded bathrooms to more serious issues such as being the breeding ground of virulent pathogens and bacteria.

Given the Middle East’s appetite for construction and building, it was only a matter of time before these issues began raising their heads.

Since the global financial recession hit, numerous contractors and developers have been forced to look at installing cheaper drainage systems. As a result, the countries of South-East Asia are proving to be sources of major trade for contractors based in the Middle East.

While European drainage system manufacturers have long adhered to strict legislation from their parent governments, those in Asia have no such restrictions. While this means that they can offer products at much lower rates than their European counterparts, it also means that they’re not as reliable as them.

“Our processes are very clean due to legislation that has been introduced in Europe and the Western world. We’ve got a very clean manufacturing process; our pipe work is actually lead-free. Traditionally, mercury and lead have been used for years, but we now use a much lower grade heavy material which is very recyclable, and that’s been driven again through Europe,” Rod Green, technical manager at Polypipe Gulf says.

“There’s a massive difference between the material we (Europe) produce and sell, compared to materials from other areas of the world, which is still based on old technology,” he added.

Due to this lack of legislation, these products may have unwittingly opened a Pandora’s box of problems.

A 2008 report in The Lancet claimed that improper sewage systems lead to higher incidences of diseases, with diarrhoea being one of the most common results of poor sanitation systems.

While focused mainly on the effects poor sanitation systems could have on developing countries, the article pointed out that a lack of advocacy for the separation of water and sanitation, with governments lumping both together.

“Water and sanitation are usually lumped together by donors, governments and organisations alike, but providing access to clean water and providing access to improved sanitation are two distinct activities which involve different expertise, timescales and funding streams. Sanitation is often in the shadow of water, a situation which is reflected in the amount of funding, priority and attention given to each entity,” the article said.

With access to clean water and sanitation so fundamental to health, it was realised that the health sector could play a more crucial role in bringing all the involved sectors together.

“Sanitation has languished at the bottom of the international agenda for far too long and the global health community has been complicit in letting it stay there. This unacceptable situation must change now,” it said.

Green agrees completely with that sentiment, adding that in the Middle East there remains a lack of critical thinking when it comes to improving designs and better thinking about drainage systems.

“If you look at Legionnaire’s Disease that was found in water systems, there’s legislation all over the place. Designers have to work around them. Yet there’s nothing for drainage, and it’s just as harmful,” he added.

One of the major problems facing developers and contractors in the region is that they have to work with a hodgepodge of standards, legislations and decrees culled from the major hubs of the industry, namely, America, the United Kingdom and Europe.

This is due to what Green calls the ‘Expat Route’. Due to the lack of home grown drainage system experts, the Middle East has traditionally relied on importing knowledge from overseas.

While this has helped accelerate development, it has also lead to confusion over which standards and legislations are most suitable for the region.

“You’ve got people from all parts of the globe that are coming in with their own codes, their own ideas and it’s very cut and paste,” says Green.

“A lot of it is just down to people understanding how the different codes work and the best way to design and install. I think it’s just going along with what you know best.

A lot of it has been driven by a lot of the design work having been done by and is still being done by expats or international consultancies.

They’ve got their own ways of designing, but that’s more applicable to their country or environment, as opposed to the environment here,” he says.

In order to remedy this, Green has called for a unified code that clearly lays out what can and can’t be done, while also specifying the standards to which products can be held to.

“There’s no real unilateral thinking. It’s not just a problem in the Middle East, it’s worldwide. People take drains for granted. Out of sight is out of mind, but it’s the one area of a building that can cause more trouble than anything else,” he says.

While there have been some movements towards sustainability in terms of the Dubai Municipality releasing its ‘Green Book’ and the likes of ESTIDAMA and LEED being used as guidelines, Green hopes this is the first steap towards a unilateral code on drainage systems being embraced by the different countries in the Middle Eastern region.

In addition, Stefan Schmied, managing director at Gerberit Middle East, says that he sees an increasing interest in acoustic and sound optimised solutions, representing a defnite movement away from old-fashioned systems that involve glues and solvents.

“More accurate materials or push fit systems provide clear benefits to all involved parties, also from a HSEpoint of view. At last, the old concept of multi-stack systems here in the Middle East is being reconsidered.”

“[Hopefully], even more so in the future. In other regions, single-stack systems work properly and been the solution of choice for decades,” Schmied says.

Despite the recession may ushering in the use of cheaper products and drainage systems, it has also afforded companies unexpected opportunities, Green says.

“Before the crash, it was willy-nilly, build as quick as we can. Now, people are starting to think about what they’re doing a bit more. They’re starting to realise that ‘we’re spending all this money on it, we don’t want it to last five minutes. We want it to last 50 years.’ It’s really starting to turn around,” Green concludes.

aims to raise drainage standards in Qatar

The recent launch of the Terrain Pleura drainage ventilation system from Polypipe, in conjunction with Studor, brings global experience of preventing, and dealing with, drainage issues in some of the world’s tallest buildings, where new challenges are now being experienced with both high-rise and super high-rises.

“The Terrain Pleura system can be utilised to balance the pressures within the drainage system, and to provide protection for the water-trap seals while significantly reducing the pipework required in traditional installations,” says Polypipe Gulf FZE GM Robin Appleby.

For example, this means a reduction from traditional three-stack plumbing (soil, waste and vent) to twin stack (soil and waste), or even single stack, combining the piping to achieve major cost-savings from a material, installation, labour or even space perspective.

Tower blocks and sports stadia are two building types where drainage systems need to perform under extreme circumstances, let alone the challenges that new architectural designs bring to the building services team.

“Architects are designing more and more challenging structures, all of which prove the need for engineered solutions,” says Appleby.

Qatar is likely to have its fair share of iconic structures for 2022, and Polypipe is focusing on above- and below-ground lead-free PVC drainage systems for the Doha market.

“While the market across the world has seen a major downturn for construction projects, the Gulf region is still busier than most, and the projects tend to be on a much larger scale,” says Appleby.

“The slowdown has also seen clients looking for better value for money, and they even have time now to be more selective when choosing materials to ensure best practice at best cost.”

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