Coast construction sector grinds to a halt

Friday, April 17th, 2020 00:00 | By
A stalled building near Nyali Bridge in Mombasa. PD/NDEGWA GATHUNGU

The construction industry at the coastal region is bearing the brunt of the Covid-19 pandemic, with majority of players forced either to halt or scale down operations, rendering hundreds of casual labourer jobless.

The outbreak has largely disrupted local and global supply chains in every industry. 

Construction activities in major towns started declining after the financial crisis began hitting the sector in early March. Many builders have now halted work and cut jobs as supplies of materials and cash dwindled.

The Chinese government’s containment efforts and quarantines have slowed or shut down factories in dozens of their towns, affecting supply of materials. 

“This situation has affected even the housing sector. We are waiting until this monster disappears,” said Goldwyne Consult company executive director Benedict Mutuku. 

For contractors who rely on Chinese-made goods or materials, this could mean higher material costs and potentially slower project completions owing to curfew and partial shutdown.

In Mombasa, hardware wholesale shops that trade on construction materials have been forced to close shop while others have scaled down workforce.

Those still open are forced to observe precautionary measures to avert the spread of Covind-19. 

Timber cut-off 

Rose Amos, sales manager at the Pinnacle Hardware shop in Kongowea says many contractors in the industry have stopped stocking raw materials.  

Prices of materials such as timber and ballast prices have also shot up. 

“Many of our suppliers have notified us that due to the partial lockdown in coastal counties (Kwale, Mombasa and Kilifi), they will not be able to supply any goods,” said Amos.

Amos says contractors have adopted a wait and see attitude until the situation normalises and prices of materials recover. 

“Water taps and pipes are the only items finding their way into the market as people have been told to wash hands as a precautionary measure to the spread of Covid-19 disease,” said Amos.

However, for big projects, coronavirus-related disruptions to material supplies have major implications, she adds.

The industry opened the year when the national economy was on a slowdown. 

Experts say the fallout from the coronavirus is one more factor poised to bring building and construction sector to its knees. 

Despite the uncertainty, experts predict that the pandemic will have ramifications for several aspects of construction, including delays in completion of projects.

Zaid Harith, head of operations at the Awajannat Hardware in Kwa Karama market, Mombasa, says some of his staff have been asked to stay home because sales have plunged. 

“The little money we are making cannot sustain our operations. We will be forced to close shop this continues,” he said.

The wholesaler deals in cement, water pipes and taps, iron sheets, cement bags, paints and other construction materials. 

The players are now asking the government to give tax incentives or waive business permits to small businesses to enable them stay afloat during these hard economic times. 

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