Feb 15, 2009

Manhole hazard

GAPING manholes on roads and sidewalks, some with twigs and stones around them to warn unsuspecting pedestrians and motorists, have been posing a danger to public safety in the federal capital. Incidents of people, including children, being killed or injured after falling into open manholes are occasionally highlighted in the press. On a rainy day not too long ago, two children were swept down an open manhole in Rawalpindi by flood waters. Their bodies were recovered from another end of the sewer in Islamabad. Many other incidents have gone unnoticed, especially those involving people who have had a narrow escape. Exposed manholes are usually the outcome of the theft of manhole covers by drug addicts and scavengers for sale to scrap dealers. Given the enormous weight of each of these cast iron covers and thus the difficulty in carting them away, in addition to the skyrocketing scrap metal prices, one wonders if there is more to the missing manhole covers than meets the eye.Replacing these stolen covers is an expensive and often futile exercise because they are stolen again. It is not an easy crime to stop since there are thousands of such covers in the city. Round the clock vigil just to guard a manhole cover is simply not possible. Municipal authorities have tried to crack down on the menace by replacing the theft-prone recyclable cast iron covers with concrete ones, but these are also being stolen for the iron bar inside them. In developed countries, there are manhole-cover locking systems that can withstand hundreds of kilogrammes of lifting forces as well as other devices, including alarms, that can be retrofitted onto covers to thwart thieves. But cost is a deterrent in replacing or fitting the hundreds of thousands of manholes in our cities with such gadgets. We can, however, consider looking into replacing the cast iron covers with those using alternative materials of less or no scrap value, for instance, ductile iron covers or those made of fibreglass or polyurethane as some countries are doing. Meanwhile, mandatory “caution” signs with orange cones around open manholes could help prevent accidents./Daily Dawn Lahore

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