Housing Renovation as Part of a Post 
Hurricane Response Programme

Dr Fernando Martirena , f.martirena@ip.etecsa.cu

Cuba is an island located at the Caribbean Sea. The northern coast is systematically hit by tropical hurricanes in their way to northern regions. These hurricanes cause severe damages to the population living close to the shore, especially at the provinces located at the central-western part of the island.

There are some urban settlements at the north of Santa Clara City, province Villa Clara where the accumulated damage has significantly affected the housing conditions of the inhabitants. The municipality Sagua la Grande is among one of the most vulnerable areas.

Since 1997, CIDEM (Centro de Investigacion de Estructurasy Materiales) as part of the Latin American network ECOSUR, has been working on projects to mitigate the damage caused to the housings and other buildings by passing hurricanes such as "Lili" 1996 and "George" (1998). Various European foundations have funded these projects through Grupo Sofonias, the legal owner of ECOSUR network.

Renovation as a target
Many factors contributed to declare renovation as the means to improve housing. Among them:
a) The budget available was very small and the number of potential beneficiaries was very high.
b) The city and surrounding areas has severe land restraints that discourage new construction to the benefit of renovation.Housing renovation in progress
c) Renovation work is ideal for self-constructing strategies, other of the main goals of this project.
d) As a general rule, the population in Cuba remains very stable with a marked trend to decrease in the forthcoming years due to aging. Thus the demand for new housing will likely decrease while renovation gets a higher priority.
e) In ecological terms renovation is far less aggressive than new construction. Factors like energy consumption can be significantly cut down to a minimum.

Current state of housing inventory and perspectives
The hit of hurricane "Lili" during 1998 through the city Sagua la Grande brought about significant damages. 753 housings completely collapsed while 2259 lost the roof. Some of these damages were healed by emergency actions but still in 1999 there were 99 housings totally collapsed, 137 partially collapsed and yet 597 with severe damage in the roof.The passage of the hurricane has just disclosed the latent problem that exists in the municipality: many of the existing housings have not been properly renovated and their present condition is very poor thus making them quite vulnerable to natural disasters such as hurricanes and floods. The deep economic crisis the country had to undergo during these years cut down renovation activities, whose results could not change the existing situation.

The opportunities
Some international funding agencies provided funds to tackle the existing situation. Several institutions that somehow had something in common with this came together in a synergistic approach, each with specific aims:
CIDEM was interested in scaling up some technologies that had been developed by this institution in the recent years. These technologies were conceived for the manufacture of ecomaterials (Building materials economic and ecological) at a very small scale.

The local government and the National Housing Institute perceived this as an opportunity to solve some of the community’s problems with resources external to the municipal budget without compromising ongoing programmes. They also provided significant amounts of funding to co-finance this programme.

The Local Industries Enterprise (LIE), a local institution that gathers craftsmen, masons and various sorts of hand labor workers took the challenge of launching into the manufacture of building materials, an approach they did not have before. The introduction of LIE provided a breath of fresh air to the intricate bureaucratic net of procedures that provision of building materials at municipal level implies.

The strategy of the project
The project set very ambitious goals clearly oriented to "seek and experiment methods to improve habitat conditions at the northern region of Villa Clara province in a sustainable way by using appropriate technologies for the manufacture of building materials, also a well focused strategy for urban intervention as well as a deep process of popular participation".

The backbone of the strategy was:
1. Setting up a solid infrastructure for the manufacture of ecomaterials in the region in a decentralized way.
2. The workshops were operated by LIE, a locally based enterprise having enough flexibility to cope with local market conditions.
3. To establish a clear policy and strategy for urban intervention in the project by defining different scenarios where the project should move depending of the size of the needed actions and the resources available.

Implementation phase
A network of ecomaterials workshops was organized, aiming at local manufacture of building materials without depending on external resources. Most of these workshops were operated by LIE in a very flexible and efficient way. The main building materials produced were:

w Micro Concrete Roofing tiles (MCR) by using the Cuban brand TEVI2 .

w Lime Pozzolana Binder CP-40, a technology developed at CIDEM for the manufacture and use of this binder

w Hollow concrete blocks with high Portland cement replacement as the main destinations of the CP-40.

This process started early in 1997 when the first workshop was set in the surroundings of Sagua city. The aim was to set up a state of the art workshop that could serve to demonstrate others the features of the CP-40 technology. The Spanish Agency for Foreign Cooperation basically funded this workshop.

Further on there two other workshops set as part of a second project, know as "Hurricane Lili". The aim of this project was to mitigate the damage cause by this hurricane in the region. Some European Foundations contributed with funds that were channeled into the country by the NGO "Grupo Sofonias". The first workshop was located at LIE facilities in Sagua city while the other was located in the municipality Corralillo, 60 km east of Sagua. This had to be relocated two years later due to problems in operation.

The last workshop was set into operation near to Remedios City, in an abandoned facility to manufacture lime. The condition of the lime kiln was improved and for the first time in many years lime was produced on the basis of firewood as fuel (most of the lime produced in Cuba is based on crude oil as fuel)

As a result of the project, a large infrastructure for the local manufacture of materials was created. There is the potential to manufacture 16,000 m2 of MCR roofing, 48,000 m2 of walling, as well as a total production of CP-40 exceeding 400 tons per year. This infrastructure was built with external funds in the range of USD $100,000 in three years, with a similar local contribution.

The strategy for urban intervention was another interesting result of the project. It consisted of shifting from the existing system for popular renovation of housings, based on centralized control and dependence on resources external to the municipality to a more flexible system where the beneficiary becomes the center of the intervention, since he/she is empowered to solve his/her problems on his/her own.

Local manufacture of building materials allowed availability of affordable materials at the local level. The new players (LIE) started to compete with the well-established producers, mainly large enterprises operated at national level with government subsidies. The LIE faced the challenged by producing locally with advantageous conditions in term of transport, and availability of resources.

The project established good working relations with one of the state banks operating in the region, and a mortgage scheme loan was establish for the benefit of the population affected by the disaster. This gave them the capacity to pay up-front for the purchasing of the building materials needed for the renovation of their housings. The same applied for the renovation tasks that were undertaken at neighborhood level, mainly by self-construction.

The resources were distributed according to the priorities defined in the strategy for urban intervention. This allowed the project to benefit more than 350 families, who had the chance to renovate their housings, and nearly 80 of them applied for mortgage loans. Also, more than 40 new jobs were created as a result of the implementation of the project.

Lessons learnt
1. A sustainable popular renovation programme demands a solid and efficient infrastructure for the manufacture of building materials, which allows some degree of independence from external resources.
2. The manufacture of building materials must be undertaken by local enterprises having a flexible infrastructure and low fixed costs.
3. Provision of a loan scheme provides access to resources to a poorer sector of society.
4. A urban intervention focused on renovation must be preceded by devising a clear strategy for urban intervention, in order to establish priorities for the use of resources.
5. Ecomaterials represent a viable alternative to traditional building materials.
6. A proper management of the project resources allows extending the impact of the project to poorer sectors of society.

This experience can be easily replicated in other areas, even in other countries, provided favourable conditions exist.

The author is the Deputy Director of CIDEM, Cuba. International consultant on building materials and technologies

1 Acevedo Catá,J.: Technology for the manufacture of MCR roofing tiles for roofing in countries having a tropical humid climate. ISPJAE.Cuba, 1995

2 J. Martirena; B. Middendorf; M. Gehrke; H. Budelmann: Use of wastes of the sugar industry as pozzolana in lime pozzolana binders: study of the reaction Cement & Concrete Research Vol 28, No. 11 pp. 1525-1536. November 1998- USA


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