Bridge failure in Hunza-Nagar: a wake up call for PWD Engineers


By Engr.Ghulam Haider

Once again a sad and depressing news surfaced on our regional newspapers: the girders of an RCC bridge collapsed in Hunza. One thinks, are our bridges made of Lego! Were they built by playing cards! Were the foundations floating in air! Eventually some important questions arise in our minds! Why is this much careless behaviour from the respective department and their management? Is contractor qualified enough to carry out this job? Has he deployed the adequate resources? Was there any project management plan? To the dismay of the common people, most of the questions are answered with a big NO!!

This news is equally saddening and worrying. Saddening in the sense that we lost millions of public money and we failed a development project which the area needed the most. And worrying in the sense that there is a serious shortcoming in the Engineering section of PWD, project management and handling the contractors.

Being an engineer with the knowledge of project management, I have some experience of projects, its phases and project management. It is worth mentioning that each phase of a project requires special set of expertise from FEED (Front End Engineering Design) to project planning and from execution to its monitoring and control.

Coming back to the topic, I want to highlight the possible causes of the failure of the bridge. These points need to be considered during the investigation of the failure as they are the design basis and ignoring any one can result in such fiascos.

1)      Soil Bearing Load Calculations

This aspect is the starting point of any civil works. This calculation is derived from soil investigation report. All successive designs and calculations depend upon this report. This report should be reviewed and checked either the designing is based correctly on this report or not. The failure will repeat if the designing isn’t as per suggestion and requirements of the Soil Investigation Report.

2)      Differential Settlement of the  Column/Pillar/Piling

It is a phenomenon that occurs due to difference of load on two different structural components. This phenomenon can be seen in buildings. Cracks appear in walls due to this effect. The effects of differential settlements are catastrophic in case of bigger structures or load carrying structures like bridges. It is possible that the girders might have failed due to difference settlement of piling and resulting difference in height of the pillars.

3)      Bar Arrangement, Concrete/Steel Ratio

This is one often under-estimated aspect during designing of any structure. It is a common misconception that by using higher diameter re-bars will strengthen the structure. The strength of a structure depends upon right Bar Arrangement and Concrete/Steel Ratio (It’s an analogy to using of braided steel rope for Hanging Bridges where small wires are meshed together resulting in high strength rope that holds all the load of bridge and the vehicles).

4)      Poor Concrete

Poor concrete, as the name implies, needs no explanation. This is the meanest technique used by contractors to save money. All the engineering and management fails if the concrete is not prepared as per standards and recommendations of the engineering team. A structure may collapse due to its own weight if the concrete is made poor; bearing some load is a far cry. A simple Compression Test will reveal the concrete condition. This test can be carried out in Civil Department in UET Lahore and Taxila (there might be more agencies for such tests)

5)      Column Bar Arrangement

Seemingly irrelevant but it may be the cause of failure. Buckling is a phenomenon in which the vertical structure bends and takes it position after shedding off its load. This occurs if the column is too slender. The column bar arrangement should be checked and reviewed.

Apart from these possible causes there might be more reasons for the failure. A qualified third party like NESPAK can easily find the causes of the failure. I have penned down these causes for the information of the common man and for the attention of the relevant secretary (Secretary Works possibly). I would also like to add the following two points;

1)      Exclude the absurd reason of failure: the wind

Please for God sake don’t mock yourself by saying that the high winds tumbled the girders (I heard that someone in the department came up with this cause. I remembered the words of a genius in the department when he claimed that the cracks in the penstock of Naltar Hydropower Plant were caused by worms. A face-palm!! )

2)      The investigation committee should not include the people from PWD/Contractors.

The investigation should be carried out by the Third Party. Both the PWD and the contractors are responsible for the delays and failure of the project. They can’t be unbiased. The report should be prepared in minimum allotted time(a month is more than enough).

I will suggest that the secretary works should hire the services of a qualified third party to investigate the causes of the failure. It should be remembered that the existing intact parts of the bridge should be evaluated and tested for conformance. The failure will continue if the cause lies in differential settlement of the existing columns of the bridge.

Furthermore one should know that the success lies in the matching your steps with the latest engineering and management practices. The staff in PWD and the contractors should take refresher courses to get updates about the recent practices and Standards in their relevant fields. It should be assured that the qualified personals are deployed on projects by the contractors for execution of the projects with quality and standard.

 Note: I am highly thankful to Engr.Malik Shehzad for being a part of brainstorming session to figure out the possible causes of the failure.

Engr.Ghulam Haider, hailing from Hunza, an Engineer and project management professional. He can be reached at “mailtohaiderg@yahoo.com, 03425619008)

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One Comment

  1. Thanks Haider sab for your professional in put and
    devotion with GB. Really You have well elaborated about the major causes of
    bridge construction failures. All the Key stake holders have been adversely failed in
    this project. All this is the result of bad governance and mismanagement of
    relevant department. We were assuming that GB would make record progress under
    self governance package but all these our hopes were dashed through corruption
    in all spheres of life. Of course those figure heads, officials and party
    workers avail this opportunity and succeeded to make properties, buildings and
    bank balances at the cost of GBIANS.I do not know why there is no any authority
    or regulatory body to stop and check such mal practices and irregularities.

    The following inhuman actions were noticed that was
    never witnessed in GB history.

    Merit was deteriorated and various affiliations
    (party, sect, region, relationship) were honoured.

    Basic human rights (food, water, education, health,
    security) were openly violated.

    Party workers were granted benefits through various tactics.

    The principles of good governance (Equity, equality,
    transparency, fairness, responsiveness, accountability and participation) were
    turned down even governance was not seem everywhere that our collapse bridge is
    its main example. If there would be any governing system in place today this
    not may be situation. We had heard only in news the project failures and now we
    practically observed it.

    Income tax was imposed by GBLA but
    constitutional right was not soughed.

    Development was stopped and none development expenses
    were enhanced.

    If some of top management started to reduce and
    discourage corrupt elements but through cabinet resolution it was encouraged
    again and legalized and justified it. Ultimately action committee had to come
    on the road against corruption and leadership had to accept their genuine

    Often we had suggested that virtually GB is full of
    Professionals, please utilize their expertise voluntarily in the interest of GB
    but no body was there to implement these suggestions, all were engaged to
    collect money through lawfully or unlawfully and consequently made the GB
    bankrupt zone where still contractors are making a noise due to none payment of
    dues from relevant department, while some of their favorites have been paid in
    advanced as it has been done in our khizer Abad Hunza bridge case.

    Govt. institutions were made dysfunctional through
    political interference and intervention as the professionals were forced to
    violate the policies by applying nepotism, favourtism, sectionalism and
    regionalism and party affiliation as well and consequently some officials has
    to loose their job at the cost of leadership.

    Office routines were not followed at each and every
    level whether it is leadership side or management side. For examples GBLAS as
    well as Govt. officials are being paid for ensuring service delivery and thus the
    govt has given a time schedule to ensure this service delivery within time
    frame. It is 8 hours. Office working hour’s that starts from 8 am and remain up
    to 4 pm.

    It is duty of minister or secretary or department head
    to ensure the presence of its all staff at their workstation in specific time. God will never send angels to warn us about
    our lacking and negligence in our daily routines. First of all it is moral
    obligation of all employees to be present at their workstation or office in
    exact time and leave the office at exact time not a single minute earlier. All
    relevant authorities and responsible personalities to be have present their self as role model but
    regret to say no high official (leadership +management ) does not present in
    offices before 10 am. If this will be our routines in our daily life how we can
    make progress or deliver services. All we need to reflect our own actions. If
    all high officials come to offices at 10 am then their should be notification
    for office timing 10 am to 6 pm instead
    of 8 to 4 pm, as The holy Quran says “why
    you do not follow that you say”. If all employees would be late for two
    hours daily means 2x26000employees( approximately) of Gb = 52000hours/by 8
    hours means we loose 6500 days work on daily bases. It is another thing that some committed
    professionals or leaders sit in
    offices late night to address emerging issues this should not be justification.
    This is their honrary service for GB if they would assume their duty within
    time frame that is good and they should balance it with family and official
    life as well.

    As a social analyst and activist my ultimate objective
    of these inconvenient words and remarks are not hurting any one or undermine as
    well merely improvement of systems and
    leading towards establishment of a well reform,
    stable and well balance society that was
    exist in our forefathers reign.

    It is hoped some of committed and honest top management
    like chief secretary as well as leadership make these suggestions as benchmark to
    make GB corruption free and welfare zone as well.

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