Winners and Finalists
Ecomaterials in Social Housing Projects
Aims and ObjectivesThe main purpose of the project is to develop and disseminate an innovative, transferable system for the local production and distribution of environmentally- and economically-sustainable building materials at municipal scale, facilitating access to families whose homes are in need of repair, particularly in disaster-prone areas.
From 1959-1988, the system for housing provision in Cuba was based on the centralised production of building materials in large, automated facilities operated by the Ministry of Construction. Prefabricated building materials were produced and supplied by road or rail to areas far from the industrial centres; it was an energy-intensive system based upon the supply of cheap oil from the former USSR.
The collapse of the Soviet Union and East European socialist states had a dramatic effect on the system: energy became scarce, roads deteriorated because of the lack of maintenance, the fleet of trucks became obsolete and the supply of spare parts was threatened. This had a great impact on the construction materials industry, which was no longer able to maintain a steady supply of building materials, particularly to areas distant from the production centres. The lack of availability of building materials led to a decrease in new housing construction and a rapid deterioration of existing housing stock due to lack of maintenance, as the population did not have the means to renovate or maintain their homes in good repair.
The new situation prompted a fundamental shift from centralised production based on long-distance transportation, to the local production of building materials in order to lower energy and transportation costs.
The work of the CIDEM research and development institute since it was established in 1991 has consisted of developing and implementing technologies to support this change at the grassroots level.
The project involves the development of a system for the local manufacture of ‘ecomaterials’ – building materials made with low embodied energy, often through recycling wastes. These include micro-concrete roofing tiles (MCR); lime-pozzolana cement (CP-40); pre-cast hollow concrete blocks, where Portland cement has been partially replaced by CP-40; low-energy fired clay bricks using bio-wastes as fuel; and the use of bamboo in construction. Suitable for both rural and suburban areas, the technologies developed by CIDEM are geared towards small-scale production, with a focus on stimulating the local economy through the creation of new job opportunities. The project’s main features include:
There are currently 19 ecomaterials workshops in full operation throughout Cuba, and another 15 worldwide, including Latin America (Mexico, Nicaragua, Honduras, Panama, Guatemala, Colombia, Ecuador), Africa (Namibia, Nigeria, Mozambique), the Middle East (Yemen) and Asia (Bangladesh).
CIDEM has also been involved with the development of projects for the mitigation and prevention of damage to housing in the event of hurricanes and other disasters. The results of this work can be seen in the fast recovery after hurricanes Michelle (2001), Dennis (2005), Gustav and Ike (2008) which struck Cuba between 2001 and 2008. CIDEM constantly seeks to develop new appropriate construction materials and is currently implementing the first stage of the project of bamboo-biomass, which allows the use of this material for new construction, as well as the improvement of existing housing.
Funding for the project has been organised in a creative way. External funding of US$ 387,000 in foreign currency has been raised from a range of donor agencies including the European Commission, GTZ, the Swiss Development Cooperation and private foundations. These funds have been used to cover costs of goods that must be purchased in foreign currency, such as certain building materials, machinery, fuel for local transport, etc. The local governments have matched these funds with local currency, which has been used for the purchase raw materials, investments in infrastructure and the payment of salaries in the workshops. The total amount of funds provided by the local governments in the Villa Clara province is estimated to be 2 million Cuban pesos (equivalent to US$ 90,000). Funds for south-south technology transfer, through workshops carried out by CIDEM and the EcoSur network, have been provided by the European Union, the Cuban government and German NGO ‘Werkhof Verein’.
Institutional and project funding has been secured from different donors until 2010. The project enjoys full support from the national government, and even if political circumstances were to change in Cuba between now and 2010, it is unlikely that government support for the local production of construction materials would decrease. The local production system developed by CIDEM is designed to be self- sustaining, and the workshops established to date have demonstrated financial sustainability.
There are currently 19 new building materials workshops in commercial operation in Cuba and a total of approximately 200 new direct jobs have been created, as well as a large number of indirect jobs (in masonry, carpentry), as a consequence of the boost in the local construction market.
One of the primary aims of the project has been to make building materials more affordable and accessible to local people. The combination of local production of materials and access to credit has enabled the population to undertake housing renovation or construction, which would otherwise have been hindered by the lack of funds and access to building materials.
Residents have organised themselves into formal mutual-help brigades to build, repair or renovate their homes. This process has strengthened social networks and resulted in innovative ways of cooperation between neighbours, and helped to create additional job opportunities in the informal sector.
As a result, small communities have acquired their own means of locally producing affordable building materials and supplying them to the local market. During the first year of operation, CIDEM made regular visit to new workshops to provide training and support and ensure that the production complied with existing quality standards, after one year, the visits became less regular, as local partners had acquired the needed skills and workshops became self-sufficient.
Special priority has been given to families whose houses were damaged by natural disasters (hurricanes or floods). Access to credit and materials allow families to respond quickly rather than wait for state assistance in repairing their homes.
The way in which the system has been implemented aims at reducing social inequalities. The credit line in particular favours families with very low income, who otherwise have no means of purchasing building materials. More than 30 per cent of the project’s beneficiaries are single mothers.
A local and decentralised model for house construction and renovation has been created, whereas the local government contributes with financial resources and manages the whole process, prioritising the worst cases in the municipality. The system developed is based upon direct participation of house owners through assisted self-help. It has proven to be more efficient than existing models in Cuba.
EvaluationThe PIME (Planning, Implementing, Monitoring and Evaluation) system, developed by SDC and NGO Grupo Sofonias, is used as a monitoring tool. Intermediate evaluations have been carried out by the local partners at the municipality where each workshop operates, followed by a final evaluation at the end of Phase I.
The approach is being successfully implemented in other municipalities and neighbouring provinces. Funding has been secured for the second phase of the project, which will involve a further scaling up and dissemination of the technologies in a wider context over the next five years, particularly in areas affected by natural disasters.
The system has gained popularity among local governments in the province, which are playing a key role in the local transfer of the approach.
Different government institutions at various levels have shown interest in replicating the initiative with their own funds. Local governments in Sancti Spiritus, Santiago de Cuba, Pinar del Rio and Havana as well as international donors such as UNDP, CIDA, SDC and others have taken steps to replicate the experience in other municipalities.
In 2002 the National Housing Institute set a network of eco-materials into operation in the province Matanzas, as a means to tackle the problems caused by hurricane Michelle. More than 600,000 blocks were produced in four workshops. INV has joined forces with CIDEM to further transfer the approach in other regions of the country.
The project is currently active in 33 municipalities across five provinces, and it is anticipated that over the next five years several thousand homes will be built and/or renovated in Cuba using locally-produced eco-materials.
The approach has been disseminated and transferred outside Cuba through EcoSur network. Eco-materials workshops were set into operation in Nicaragua and Honduras. The governor of Morelia, Mexico, in 2005 placed an order for 14 workshops to be set into operation throughout the state. Additional workshops are currently in operation in Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Mozambique and Yemen.
Prof. José Fernando Martierena Hernández
Head of Project
Centro de Investigación y Desarrollo de Estructuras y Materiales (CIDEM)
Universidad Central de las Villas
Carretera de Camajuani km 5
Santa Clara 408000
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