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close this bookJournal of the Network of African Countries on Local Building Materials and Technologies - Volume 3, Number 3 (HABITAT, 1995, 42 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentThe Aim of the Network and Its Journal
View the documentForeword
View the documentImportance of Appropriate Building Codes and Regulations in Improving Low-Income Settlements Conditions in African Region*
View the documentKenya: Building Standards and Planning Regulations - The Kenyan Experience**
View the documentTanzania: Sustainability of Building Materials Supply in Dar es Salaam***
View the documentEvents
View the documentPublications Review
View the documentBack Cover

Importance of Appropriate Building Codes and Regulations in Improving Low-Income Settlements Conditions in African Region*

* By Baris Der-Petrossian, UNCHS (Habitat). It is partly based on an earlier research work conducted by UNCHS (Habitat).


The provision and/or improvement of shelter conditions of low-income populations which is dependent on sound construction sector activities is instrumental in attaining the goals of social and economic development in every country. Shelter has been classified as a basic human need, and building codes and regulations should support the realization of this need by facilitating the access of the low-income people and the poor to basic shelter. This can be achieved by stimulating individual and collective solutions to shelter problems and by fostering a construction industry based on appropriate technology and the use of locally available resources. Thus, development plans and goals ought to give special attention to the impact of building codes and regulations on the provision and/or improvement of shelter for low-income people.

Those most severely affected by current approaches to building codes and regulations are the poor, who are the majority in both urban and rural areas. The physical conditions of the rapidly growing low-income settlements are in most cases not adequate, and efforts should be made to eliminate their marginality vis-a-vis the main thrust of urban development efforts. This is a massive undertaking, since the rural life from which most residents have immigrated is not improving fast enough to close the gap between rural and urban life-styles, with the result that migration continues and the physical development problems of urban areas increase. Accordingly, it is incumbent on National Governments to pursue development programmes that embrace building regulations sensitive to the needs and capacities of the poor.

The extent to which building codes and regulations have an impact on national objectives depends largely upon the degree to which they encourage actions which are consistent with and supportive of national-development goals. However, in many African countries, present codes and regulations, often, hamper national efforts by introducing inappropriate requirements and limitations into the building process; either they seek different objectives or they attach different priorities to existing objectives. This applies especially to the environment of human settlements, because historically, codes, regulations and standards have emphasized development in urban areas. Consequently, it is not surprising that this regulatory framework has tended to contribute to the creation in many countries not only of a dual economy but also of a dual construction sector output marked by structures such as modern office buildings, commercial buildings, hotels and high-class residential buildings on the one hand and slums and squatter settlements on the other.

Appropriately-designed codes and regulations could provide a framework and guidelines for developing a comprehensive shelter and infrastructure programme that could satisfy the needs of low-income population. However, present codes and regulations, often, tend to inhibit the development of flexible construction practices. In addition, exclusive large-scale industrial processes have been encouraged by existing code requirements, with the result that the introduction of change into appropriate construction practice has been hampered. Thus, the introduction of flexible codes and regulations could greatly alter the construction sector and could directly contribute to increased productivity and employment and a strengthened relationship between the formal and informal sectors.

An essential first step in the review and evaluation of building regulations and codes would be the analysis of those inherited ones which do not suit the requirements of low-income settlements. The critical areas hampering the development of low-cost construction practices should be identified and the current approaches should be modified accordingly. While safety and health are fundamental objectives in any type of construction process, the basic goal should be to improve the capacity of the indigenous construction industry, so that it can cater for the needs of the poor. The reformulation process of building regulations and codes should seek to promote the wide-scale adoption of indigenous building materials and construction techniques.

In addition to government efforts in modifying the existing building codes and regulations, non-governmental action can contribute to the development of more appropriate building regulations through the organization of community development programmes and facilitating the exchange and dissemination of information. The problem of lack of information on codes and regulations and the urgent need to introduce reform is now being addressed by national agencies, universities, centres for appropriate technology, self-reliance groups and community-based organizations. The results of these efforts should be presented and distributed in a form understandable to low-income people. Since low-income residents are often suspicious of all forms of government regulation, attitudes will need to be changed if ordinary people are to become involved in activities related to code reform and usage. The importance of community initiatives and professional involvement in developing public awareness programmes on this subject should not be underestimated. Specifically, community-based organizations could facilitate the establishment and organization of special programmes and could serve as important mechanisms for linking the low-income community and the building industry.

This paper attempts to present an overview of prevailing trends, issues and setbacks in the field of building codes and regulations in African countries. It identifies some of the implications of the present situation with regard to the ability of decision-makers and professionals to achieve the goals of improved human settlements through appropriate construction sector activities. It also attempts to describe how African countries are responding to the inappropriateness of existing building codes and regulations. Consequences of the present situation are particularly serious for low-income settlements, where most of the rural and urban population lives. The central theme of the paper is that appropriate building codes and regulations could directly contribute to the improvement of living conditions in these settlements. The aim should be to work towards a congruency between the built environment and national development efforts so that the needs of all are addressed in a fair manner.


Building regulations are statutory instruments intended to serve the construction industry. They consist of a set of regulations and rules to control the construction of buildings. They expand on purely legislative documents of Acts and Ordinances, but on their own, they are statutory and must be complied with. The term “building by-laws” is technically synonymous with building regulations but it refers to rules adopted at the local level as approved at the national level. The International Organizations for Standardization (ISO) has defined a regulation as “A binding document which contains legislative, regulatory or administrative rules and which is adopted and published by an authority legally vested with the necessary power”.

Building codes are a set of practical technical and administrative rules and requirements for the construction of buildings. Unlike building regulations, codes are not normally mandatory but could be made so by an appropriate reference in the regulations. In most instances, regulatory and mandatory issues are contained in building regulations, whereas building codes are technical requirements and details which support the regulations.

Building regulations and codes are applied mostly to permanent structures in urban areas which are designed by professional architects and engineers according to established standards of modern construction practice. However, the bulk of construction activity, especially in the residential sector and particularly for the low-income population, follows traditional construction practice, and this produces structures which fall outside the scope of most building legislation.

In general, codes and regulations prescribe the manner in which people must build in order to ensure structural safety, prevent fire and promote public health. Frequently, in order to implement the standards contained in these codes, foreign technologies are required. Such codes tend to be insensitive to indigenous technologies and building practices which might make better use of locally-available materials and labour. When efforts have been made to incorporate national concerns and objectives into building codes, the results have not really let to a greater use of local resources. A major reason for this is that many African countries lack indigenous expertise and empirical knowledge, both of which are required in order to revise building codes and regulations in accordance with national needs and conditions.

Building codes and regulations should be made more sensitive to the use of natural resources in the building industry and should encourage or specify construction practices that require the use of local technologies and materials. This may lead to the following consequences: local consumption of renewable resources; the production of energy-efficient buildings and the use of low-energy construction processes; and the increased utilization of locally-available human resources in the construction process. Codes and regulations could also encourage the gradual refinement and greater use of indigenous technology, help conserve local natural resources and promote the construction and maintenance of dwellings by low-income populations.

In most African countries, existing building codes are frequently difficult to understand and work with because they have often been copied from codes enacted in a developed country which has very different objectives and conditions from those currently found in African countries. This situation has caused some countries to redesign and rewrite their building codes in order to accommodate indigenous conditions and to present the codes in a clear and concise way using illustrations where appropriate. The intention is to make the building codes more consistent with national conditions, while at the same time making them more understandable to the public at large and especially to the small ad hoc builder. On the other hand, building codes do require the use of technical language and must be precise in order to facilitate accurate and uniform interpretation in cases of litigation. These two needs must be brought into balance for codes to be effective and utilized justly.

Although there is great similarity and uniformity among building codes and regulations around the world, it is clear that there are great variations in the living habits, preferences and needs of different national populations. For example, in most African countries, existing building codes are based upon scientific knowledge regarding what is necessary in order to ensure the health and safety of the population. Yet the circumstances found in African countries are, often, different from circumstances elsewhere, and it is necessary to define exactly what is meant by the concepts of health and safety as they apply to a particular country at a given time.

Health in one country may be defined in terms of some minimum set of standards which must be met, while in another country, because of prevailing conditions, the corresponding standards might be either higher or lower. It should be recalled that standards include a value component which is not absolute but culturally relative. Similarly the degree of structural safety can be varied from country to country if hazards caused by natural disasters are to be dealt with in the design and construction of structures. Obviously, different types of natural disasters require different types of safety measures which would he different from country to country and region to region.

In many countries, national building codes encompass all of the construction processes, but they apply almost exclusively to construction taking place in urban areas. They serve as legal instruments specifying minimum standards for the design and construction of all types of buildings. Generally speaking, building construction in rural areas is ignored, if not in the code then in the enforcement process. The codes or regulations that do exist in rural areas are usually limited to health matters, especially rural sanitation and water supply. Where special rural development programmes have been implemented, the resulting housing and community facilities have usually been built according to detailed construction specifications, usually with supervision by qualified personnel. However, such programmes constitute only a very small portion of the rural built environment, since the typical pattern is one of uncontrolled and unguided development. It is interesting to note that even where there is a systematic and controlled construction of rural dwellings, such programmes have had limited influence on subsequent construction in the immediate vicinity.

Finally, one thing is clear, that the importation of a foreign building code and its subsequent uniform application throughout a country can not contribute significantly to the achievement of national development objectives.

Poor construction and non-adherence to specifications and standards can cause damages to low-cost buildings


(a) Safety in construction

One of the major concerns of building codes and regulations is to ensure safety of the built environment. Buildings and physical infrastructure are prone to hazards during construction and after the facility is in use. It is, therefore, important to take measures to eliminate, prevent and control such hazards through application of and adherence to the building codes and regulations. If certain principles and guidelines of structural design and construction are ignored, the result is structural risk, varying from superficial damage to total collapse. Sometimes, the impact of unsafe construction may have immediate consequences of structural damage or collapse, but, in other instances, deterioration may be a gradual process spanning several years, often unnoticed but ultimately leading to a total failure of the structure. Building regulations and codes can help remove these hazards by ensuring that the correct principles and practices of structural stability and durability are adhered to. Even where a faulty structure has already been erected, it is possible, through certain provisions in codes and regulations, to rectify the error and, thus, prevent a potential calamity.

In addition to structural stability and durability, there exist a number of other safety criteria which are as follows:

(i) Fire

Buildings can be exposed to fire hazards through faulty electrical and mechanical installations which can lead to loss of life and damage to property, including irreparable damage to the building itself. Sometimes, a fire outbreak may result from accidents not related to errors in electrical or mechanical installations but, even in such cases, it is essential that buildings provide some minimal protection for life and property. Building regulations and codes can promote good construction practice to minimize fire hazards and can, as well, help ensure that, if ever there is a fire outbreak, there will be an opportunity to save lives and salvage property. Mandatory installation of smoke detectors and automatic water sprinkles are good examples for preventing fire damages to buildings.

(ii) Natural and human-made disasters

Disasters, such as earthquakes, cyclones and floods, are natural occurrences which can be destructive to buildings and property in general. Damage to structures resulting from such disasters is often severe and, even if reparable, can be crippling in cost to the national economy. Even though disasters can hardly be prevented, it is possible to minimize the damage to property and lives through the application of appropriate regulations and codes. Some disasters are mild, occurring infrequently and their effects can be mitigated by adherence to simple standard structural design and construction practices. With severe disasters, such as earthquakes or volcanic eruptions, several types of regulations can be applied to minimize damage.

It is not surprising to note that in many earthquake-prone regions and countries quite a number of old buildings are being strengthened structurally in order to protect them from collapse during severe earthquakes. Obviously, all these efforts, which are very costly and complicated, are done in adherence to newly revised or established codes and regulations based on technological advancements and experiences learnt during past disasters.

(iii) Risks to construction workers

On-site construction workers are exposed to occupational hazards which, in some instances, could lead to loss of life or permanent disablement. Some on site hazards occur as a result of unavoidable accidents, but many occur as a result of incompetence or ignorance. Building regulations and codes can minimize hazards on construction sites and, thereby, ensure reasonable protection for construction workers. Most of these regulations are produced by the ministries of labour which are concerned with the safety of labour in construction sites as well as other industries with high risk to the safety of workers.

(b) Health in the built environment

Criteria for health are often subjective and controversial, but there are several risks to health which result from faulty construction. With defects in construction related to water supply or sanitation, the risks to health are great and can be easily recognized and accounted for, but inadequate day lighting, poor artificial lighting and poor ventilation are also some of the typical consequences of faulty architectural-design construction-practices. Errors of this nature are often not easily recognized, and the damage that they cause may have only a gradual harmful effect; nonetheless, they could lead to problems of ill-health in the long-run. Problems associated with health hazards of certain building materials, such as, asbestos, certain paints, plastic and insulation compounds, formaldehyde and volatile organic compounds, etc., are also among critical issues which in the recent time have attracted great attention. In order to reduce/eliminate health hazards associated with these type of building materials many countries have already taken steps to revise their building regulations to incorporate such issues.

(c) Legal controls

The nature of construction industry in most countries justifies the need for strict legal controls to ensure conformity. A typical construction activity requires a wide range of skills and specialists, but, in most cases, entry into the construction profession is without any effective checks against unskilled practitioners. For instance, a contractor can decide to reduce the required quantity of cement in concrete below the tolerable limit for the simple purpose of defrauding the client and thereby maximizing profits. It is even possible to recruit apprentices to undertake rather complex and specialized tasks, with the aim of cutting down on labour costs. Similarly, clients or property developers may permit unsafe construction in order to maximize profits.

In this context building regulations and codes are there to provide the legal means to ensure safety, health and orderly development in construction. The legal consequences for non-compliance with stipulated regulations and codes could be, to a large extent, a deterrent to faulty construction. For instance, demolition of a building could be the penalty for an illegal construction, and this is severe enough to guarantee some basic conformity to regulations and codes. Where the penalties are all-embracing, to affect both owner and builder, regulations and codes are likely to achieve a high degree of conformity.

The importance of building regulations and codes as legislative controls in construction is determined by the ability to enforce them. Unless they are enforced, the legal penalties attached to them do not safeguard against faulty construction. However, even when enforcement procedures are deficient, building regulations and codes are important in providing technical guidance despite their limitations as legal controls.

(d) The economic significance

The cost of constructing a building is often high and represents a sizeable investment, so that it may not be feasible to replace such capital, should it be lost. For an individual house-owner, an investment in shelter might have been achieved through a life-time of hard saving, and the building might be expected to last an entire generation or more, so that it is important that avoidable errors be corrected by regulations and codes. Furthermore, if safety, health and orderly development are not ensured in the construction, the resulting damage, particularly to physical structures, can be costly to individuals as well as to the national economy.

Building regulations and codes can determine the types of building materials, construction techniques and skills used in building and, in general, influence the technological direction of the construction industry which have direct bearing on the total cost of buildings. This is, generally, relevant to most developing countries, because, in most cases, the construction industry uses a high proportion of imports. To some extent, the import-dependence of the construction industry can be blamed on regulations and codes which specify materials and technologies beyond the resource capacities of the countries. In many cases, there is even a wastage or wrong application of expensive, scarce and imported materials.

Similarly, building regulations and codes can be used to promote the adoption of locally - available building materials construction techniques and skills, to replace materials and technologies which are based on costly imported inputs. Some of these indigenous inputs in construction are traditional but are neglected, while others are innovative and yet to achieve wide-scale adoption. In both cases, their popularity in production and use can be assured by incorporating them in regulatory instruments. Promoting indigenous inputs in construction not only reduces imports but, in addition, generates employment and income-earning opportunities, by stimulating the growth of industries. Hence, overall economic improvement in every country.

(e) Low-income shelter

Building regulations and codes are important for all types of construction activities but, in the context of African countries, they are particularly important for low-income shelter, because a single effort through these regulatory processes could lead to significant improvements. For example, regulations and codes can incorporate the types of building by low-income groups. The use of soil in construction, probably, offers the best opportunity for most low-income settlements to provide for their basic shelter needs. However, to build a safe and durable house in soil at affordable costs, requires some basic technical guidelines which can be provided through building regulations and codes backed by adequate standards. In some situations, building technologies to improve low-income shelter are already known but until the time that they are incorporated in building regulations and codes, they will not be accepted and applied by the low-income group. In fact, in most African countries, there are several building materials and techniques, apart from soil, which could have an impact on the shelter situation of the low-income population. However, they are likely to gain wide-scale popularity and adoption if promoted through building regulations and codes.


(a) Technical components

The technical contents of regulations cover, in general, two main aspects. The first is related to town planning rules and regulations, dealing with items such as net residential density, street sizes, provision of open spaces in residential areas, plot sizes and provision of amenities. The second aspect is related to buildings and building construction, covering items such as size of rooms, materials for construction, thickness of walls, placement of windows and doors and structural considerations. In some countries the town planning aspects are combined with building rules, but, in many other countries, the distinct subjects are separated.

In terms of coverage of technical issues, most of the regulations and codes are usually inadequate. For instance, most building regulations are not comprehensive but focus exclusively on residential buildings. Probably because most regulations and codes are old, they tend to ignore specialized features of building construction such as lifts, fire protection regulations, multi-storey buildings, complex industrial and commercial structures disaster resistance and similar recent developments. Building codes, as distinct from building regulations, provide the real technical guidance in construction and explain and expand on the regulations, thus forming the core of the regulatory procedures. However, in most African countries, codes of practice for construction industry, if in existence, are sometimes limited to codes of practice for certain types of structural elements such as reinforced concrete or steel structures which are themselves adapted from foreign sources.

In many cases, building regulations seem to be specification oriented, thus, having restrictive nature. However, in construction practice, the choice of a particular building material or construction technique is determined primarily by the function that is assigned to it, and, where there is a clear understanding of functional requirements, a building element can be produced, by selection of the most appropriate one from a multitude of building materials. For example, if a wall is required to divide two rooms for the simple purpose of providing privacy, it need not be restricted to a concrete block wall and, if it has to be a concrete block wall, it need not be limited to a particular dimension because, with different techniques, a small or large dimension could perform the same function. Unfortunately, most building regulations and codes are designed with a restrictive approach, with the consequence that the construction industry has, for a long time, been limited to only a few building materials and techniques, and new options, especially if they are not imported, have little chance of being incorporated in the regulatory instruments.

An automated press for producing high quality and standardized soil blocks - Gabon

In most African countries, existing building codes are frequently difficult to understand and work with because they have often been copied from codes enacted in a developed country which has very different objectives and conditions from those currently found in African countries. This situation has caused some countries to redesign and rewrite their building codes in order to accommodate indigenous conditions and to present the codes in a clear and concise fashion, using illustrations where appropriate. The intention is to make the building codes more consistent with national conditions, while at the same time making them more understandable to the public at large and especially to the small-scale builder. On the other hand, building codes do require the use of technical languages and must be precise in order to facilitate accurate and uniform interpretation in cases of litigation. These two needs must be brought into balance for codes to be effective and utilized justly.

The, manner in which regulations and codes are presented lacks communicability. Presenting codes in an official language, such as English or French is had enough when the majority of the people to whom the codes are addressed are basically illiterate but, even disregarding the widespread conditions of illiteracy, there is still a problem of lack of clarity of expression which may contuse even professionals in the construction industry.

(b) Enforcement

One of the main requirements for adequate enforcement process is to make sure whether every single construction project has a building permit. In addition, there must be adequate quantity of skilled staff to visit the sites proposed for construction before granting a building permit, and, most importantly, the construction site must be visited at various stages when construction is in progress, to ensure conformity with the approved design. However, practically most enforcement agencies in African countries are either under-staffed or do not possess adequate skills, and the minimum inputs required to perform these functions, such as vehicles and surveying instruments, are rarely available. What happens in reality is that most of the operations which are supposed to take place outside the offices of the enforcement agencies, such as site visits are often ignored, although these activities are the very basic requirements for enforcement processes. Obviously, in the absence of regular site visits, enforcement process becomes a simple and administrative undertaking for the approval of plans and drawings.

Weakness of enforcement capacity is aggravated by the adoption of procedures which are cumbersome and time-consuming. There are many cases of builders who take advantage of the incapacity of the enforcement agencies to put up illegal structures, but there are still more builders who become victims of these cumbersome processes and, because of the delays in obtaining a building permit, have to absorb inflationary trends in construction costs.

Public-sector construction in some countries is exempted from enforcement procedures or is, at least, taken for granted as conforming to any expected requirements. It may be argued that, because the enforcement capacity is rather ineffective, the work of public construction is valid, which is not always the case. However, with private-sector construction, there is always a possibility that, once a design has gone through the cumbersome stages of approval, some level of conformity will be achieved. Effective enforcement procedures serve at least one useful purpose - that is, they clarify the legal implications of a disaster or damage, e.g., fault-finding, accountability, identification of who bears the responsibility and takes decisions and what measures to take to correct similar errors in future. With public construction, there are many gaps in such a fault-finding procedure.

The enforcement of building regulations and codes is a two-way process, involving, on the one hand, conformity by the builder and, on the other, conformity by the enforcing authorities themselves. In meeting the objectives of safety, health, and orderly development, building regulations and codes place a responsibility on some public executing agencies, such as the Town Planning Department, City Engineer's Department, Public Health Officer's Department. Water and Sewerage Department and Electricity Department, to carry out certain basic functions. However, the situation in most African countries is that these agencies are not well equipped to meeting their responsibilities and, thus, have a negative impact on safety and health in the built environment.

(c) Buck-up services

Back-up services, in most African countries are either non-existent or even if they exist, they are under-developed. Standards and specifications for building materials production and use, for example are one of the most indispensable features of regulations and codes. In the absence of appropriate standards and specifications for building materials, obviously, most building regulations and codes make reference to foreign standards. Hence, an adverse impact on the promotion of locally-produced and low-cost building materials. This frequent reference to foreign standards has also led to the use of building materials and construction techniques with high import content. In fact, adopting international standards in any African country, for example, for reinforced/pre-stressed concrete or steel structure in a multi-storey building is fully adequate, however, using same standards for the construction of simple houses for low-income population is not relevant and could not be acceptable.

Through a number of international and national efforts over the past decade, in many African countries, there exist some form of national agency responsible for promoting standards for local products. However, such efforts have had little or no impact in promoting standards for local-building materials. In cases where standards for a few local products have been formulated, there is still the problem of how to enforce them effectively and get them eventually incorporated in building regulations and codes. The general pattern in Africa is that a substantial amount of building materials is produced locally, but, in the absence of effective standards to back up production, the end-products are often not meeting the requirements for safety in construction. Low quality of indigenous building materials is a common feature in both the large-scale, and the small-scale sector, but the situation is most prevalent in the latter.

The problem of low quality of production, in this case, goes beyond the lack of locally formulated standards. The main gap is the lack of quality-control procedures to guide production and this includes the lack of access to simple testing facilities and simple tools for weights and measures. A basic material, such as concrete block, is produced in small-scale units using production methods without adhering to quality-control procedures. The product is commonly assumed to be of a requisite standard, and there is as yet no mechanism for controlling this deficiency, even though it could be the single cause of an unsafe construction.

The efforts of building research institutions in promoting the local-building materials through building regulations and codes have also not been very successful. For a number of reasons, useful research findings never get incorporated in regulatory instruments, and there is always a gap between research outputs and their adoption on a wide-scale. Associations of professionals in the construction industry exist in most countries, but they also have not been able to bring about desired changes in building regulations and codes. For instance, it is in the interests of a national association of architects to promote the formulation and adoption of local codes of practice for design, but these professional associations are limited in their capacity to ensure that the day-to-day tools which support the construction industry, such as basic building materials, are available on the market and are obtained at expected levels of quality.

There are a few miscellaneous back-up services which play a vital role in supporting the efficiency of the construction industry and helping to achieve the objectives of building codes and regulations, but these operate inefficiently. For instance, the problem of fire hazards is such that even through they can be well-covered in building regulations and codes, when a disaster inevitably strikes, safety can ultimately only be ensured by an efficient fire service as well as good public education on how to contain such emergencies. In several countries, the efficiency of the fire service cannot be relied upon as a curative measure in case of a fire outbreak. As another example, consumer-rights awareness is, on the whole, underdeveloped in many countries. Consumers are yet to organize themselves into pressure groups to ensure good-quality building materials and to ensure good-quality output from contractors.

(d) Low-income settlements

Probably the single most significant disadvantage of existing regulations and codes is that low-income settlements, comprising rural dwellings and urban-squatter settlements, are completely ignored. In African countries, as in many developing countries, about 70 per cent of the population lives in rural areas, and, in the urban areas, a large proportion of the population lives in slums and uncontrolled settlements which are mushrooming continuously. If the objectives of building regulations and codes are to promote the basic welfare of people, by ensuring safety and health, then when they exclude the interests of the bulk of the population, they are failing in their function. Sometimes, regulations and codes are flexible enough to deal with low-income housing, as long as it is new construction based on conventional principles. However, the predominant problem with low-income settlements concerns the already built-up environment - how to improve on deficient construction techniques, how to make poor quality materials durable and how to provide basic infrastructure and amenities in order to improve the poor's living conditions.

The exclusion of provisions to promote the construction requirements of the low-income population has had undesirable consequences. For instance, the presence of high-cost and import-based building materials and construction techniques which dominate the provisions of existing regulations and codes has had a negative influence on construction practices for the low-income population. In some instances, simple rural dwellings have been constructed in reinforced concrete technology at prohibitive costs as a result of these tendencies.


(a) Conceptual framework

The foregoing section have provided an analysis of the current situation of building codes and regulations and have outlined the major limitations that they face. Bearing in mind the current scenario, it is becoming quite obvious that there is a need to revise/reformulate the existing codes and regulations so as to make them compatible with the overall development objectives in every country. While ensuring safety and health in the built environment is the fundamental objective of the construction process, the basic goal in any revising exercise must be improving the capacity of the indigenous construction sector, so that it can meet the requirements of low-income population. In principle, the revision of building codes and regulations should seek to promote the wide-scale adoption of indigenous building materials and construction techniques.

Given this type of approach to the revision of building regulations and codes, attention should primarily focus on the low-income population. Most existing regulations and codes make little or no reference to the issues of low-income settlements, so that this, in itself, is enough justification to focus attention on this area. However, regulations and codes, in the strict sense, may not be applicable to this target group, because there may have to be a completely pragmatic and innovative approach to satisfying its requirements - possibly the drafting of a “model building code for low-income housing”. In line with this basic concept, it should be borne in mind that the construction practices involving the use of imported materials and techniques, tend to have a negative influence on the low-income population. Hence, it is desirable to revise regulations and codes so as to address the interests of the low-income population.

Development of low-income settlements should fallow guidelines stipulated in building codes and regulations

The basic concept behind existing regulations and codes, which has made them unenforceable, is that they assume a policing role, implying a confrontation between the users of the instruments, on the one hand, and a superior body of controllers of the instruments, on the other. This approach is resource - demanding on the part of the controllers and, even where the resources are available, there is still the possibility of lapses by such a controlling body. Such errors could defeat the overall objectives of the regulatory process in construction.

An alternative to the “policing” concept of regulations and codes is the “counselling” concept. Under the counselling concept, building regulations and codes are intended predominantly to provide guidance and improve the output of the construction industry. This is reflected in the relationship between enforcement agencies and the users of the instruments which is based on cooperation and mutual support rather than on confrontation.

To some extent, the counselling concept provides that the task of enforcement rests more on the users than on the controllers.

Over the short term, adopting a counselling approach will mean that any new set of instruments will have to deal with the constraints of construction manpower, thus requiring a great deal of effort to obtain conformity to good construction practice and to promote the wide-scale adoption of locally-available construction inputs.

This objective can be met by ensuring that the construction team is organized as a self-policing promotional group, so that desired improvements can be brought about in regulations and codes. Similarly, the building materials industry should be developed to provide adequate quantities of basic items and to devise its own mechanisms for ensuring that output is of acceptable quality. Thus revising of building regulations and codes does not end with the rewriting of existing documents on the subject but, going far beyond this activity, implies a total adjustment of all the parameters of the construction industry, so that the objectives of safety, health, and orderly development of the built environment can be met, while, at the same time, fulfilling the construction requirements of the population.

(b) Legal component

Even where building regulations and codes are reformulated to depart from the existing policing approach to a pragmatic counselling approach, the legal component will still play a vital role. A local construction industry may have a competent work-force and a balanced performance of all the various components of the industry, but there is still the possibility of negligence, incompetence or fraud in construction practice, which may lead to disastrous consequences. Legal sanctions against non-conformity can act, as a last resort, as a deterrent against such defects, as well as ensure accountability in case of defect.

Normally, the legal component of Acts regulations and codes, must pass through a complex legislative process before any amendments can be made. However, if Acts are restricted to deal with basic issues, providing only the legislative framework to support the technicalities of regulations and codes, amendments become feasible or, often, unnecessary. Where Acts contain technical elements of the regulations and codes, there is always the problem of conflicts between the non-uniform interpretation of legal issues and the relatively uniform (but frequently changing) interpretation of technical issues. In any reformulation exercise, the legal component should avoid, as much as possible, confusion with technical issues, delegating all such matters to supporting documents - the regulations and codes.

In general, the provisions laid out in Acts are intended to play a preventive role in ensuring safety, health and orderly development in new construction. However, a reformulation exercise offers an opportunity to address issues which are curative of established problems in the built environment. This is a particularly relevant concept in view of the fact that a large proportion of urban dwellers are already living in slums and squatter settlements and that their construction requirements are almost exclusively for remedial measures to improve and upgrade the situation.

(c) Technical component

If building regulations and codes are to be reformulated, with the objective of promoting the wide-scale adoption of locally-available construction-inputs, it is important that technical variables related to the construction inputs are incorporated in them. However, technical variables tend to change at a quick rate, so that their continuous incorporation will require that the technical component be frequently reviewed and amended. Amendments of this nature need to be the responsibility of a single agency but, rather, contributions of ad hoc technical committees or inputs from recognized professional bodies. For example, the design codes can be reviewed periodically by the local professional body of architects. Frequent amendments can be made to the technical components of regulatory instruments because they require minimal effort, can be introduced over a relatively short period of time and, above all, can become operational without the repeated approval of the legislature.

The scope of construction activities to be covered by the technical component of regulatory instruments will vary from country to country, depending primarily on the demands which are made on the construction industry. In general, however, it is desirable that the scope be as comprehensive as possible, bearing in mind that, if a single seemingly unimportant item is ignored, it may defeat the overall objective of ensuring safety and health. Most building regulations and codes cover a limited scope of construction activity, based only on the realities of the era in which they were prepared.

For the purpose of a reformulation exercise, it is important that codes are distinguished from rules and regulations. Building rules or regulations are the predominant means by which the technical aspects of the regulatory process are dealt with. To a large extent, guidance for good construction practice and the basis for conformity to safety, health and orderly development in the built environment depend on codes of practice. For this reason, codes of practice have to be specific to the local construction industry and, above all they have to be as detailed as possible addressing the interests of each participant in the construction process as well as providing for information which is common to the entire construction team.

(d) Enforcement component

The enforcement of regulations and codes has become tantamount to the control or provision of building permits. When formulated regulations and codes are based on the concept of counselling or providing guidance for good construction practice, the task of enforcement goes beyond the issuing of building permits. Building permits, on their own, are important for the enforcement of regulations and codes but, currently, they are administered in a manner that makes them ineffective for attaining safety and orderly development in construction. Also, they can be the greatest source of delay or abandonment of a construction project.

In a reformulation exercise, it is desirable that these constraints be tackled. The difficult process of obtaining a building permit can be simplified: for example, in a single agency system, the designated agency may have to assemble all the information from other agencies which are relevant for the approval of a permit or diversify its resource capabilities in order to be able to handle different aspects of the requirements of the regulations.

In revising building regulations and codes, it is likely that considerable attention will be given to the portion on enforcement and administration, stipulating details such as new requirements for application for and granting of building permits. However, there is a need for certain services or facilities to be physically provided to support or complement new enforcement machinery. For instance, it may be desirable to expand the staff resources of enforcement agencies or even improve the skills of existing manpower. Some of these measures of improvement in the enforcement procedures have to be promoted prior to the redrafting of regulations and codes, so that they can be complied with in the new provisions. One basic task, complementing the revision of building regulations and codes, is to improve the performance of public agencies which play a supporting role in the application of regulations and codes.

(e) Back-up Services

In order to have reformulated regulations and codes make reference to locally-produced building material, standards and specifications must be formulated for a variety of materials, such as soils, concrete blocks, timber components, lime, clay bricks and roofing tiles. Formulation of standards and specifications is, in turn, facilitated by easy access to testing facilities. Particularly for small-scale building materials producers using obsolete production techniques, the promotion of basic quality control procedures will go along way to ensuring that their output conforms to stipulated standards and specifications.

Certain elements of building technology, such as good practice in measurement or the availability of basic tools for weights and measures, can also serve a useful purpose in ensuring conformity to expected requirements in construction. Many errors are committed on site as a result of the lack of apparatus to measure accurately. The concept of standardization of building elements and the principles of modular co-ordination are useful means of achieving uniformity in construction as well as facilitating conformity to stipulated regulation.

Professional bodies or, in general, the construction labour force, can determine what inputs are desirable for building regulations and codes, but it is, first and foremost, important to assign particular responsibilities to such professional groups, sometimes, through seminars and similar informal educational programme, the construction labour force is able to maintain basic standards in performance. Professional bodies can also act as pressure groups to bring about desired changes in regulations and codes.

In revision of building regulations and codes, on its own, cannot bring about improvements, until certain physical adjustments take place within the construction industry. Some of these physical adjustments fall into the category of basic back-up services, and it is important that they be provided before the revision is undertaken. If one of the fundamental objectives of reformulating building regulations and codes is to cut down on imports and ensure the wide-scale adoption of local-building materials, it is imperative that standards be formulated for such local-building materials. Thus, one of the prior tasks before embarking on the drafting/revising of regulations and codes is to ensure that the preferred standards and specifications, which will be frequently referred to in the codes, are ready for incorporation.

(f) Inventory of existing building regulations and codes

In any revising exercise, it is of utmost importance to have a comprehensive inventory of existing building regulations and codes which will form the basis for any new proposals. The task of compiling information and creating an inventory may be taken for granted, but, if it is underestimated, deficiencies which accrue at this stage of the exercise may contribute significantly to the non-success of the whole operation. All documents pertaining to existing building regulations and codes will have to be assembled and reviewed. Unfortunately, in most cases, the documents are not comprehensive and will have to be augmented by extensive field investigation.

The task of preparing an inventory of existing building regulations and codes is very challenging, because it extends to almost every aspect of the construction industry. Information on existing back-up services and the entire enforcement machinery should be collected and reviewed. For example, it is important to have a clear understanding of the building materials situation - what building materials are popularly used in the construction sector; what building materials are commonly referred to in the regulations; what standards are frequently used in the documents; what types of local building materials and construction techniques are intended to be promoted by the newly-formulated codes; what national standards institution is available to formulate and enforce local standards and what is the resource capacity of such an institution.

The extent to which information from other countries can be utilized for the revision exercise should be investigated. In this regard, data may have to be collected from other sources for the purpose of analyzing and applying the results in newly-formulated regulations and codes. Certain aspects of regulations and codes are costly to formulate but, when available, can easily be replicated in different countries. Standards and specifications for some building materials, having typically only technical nature, can easily be transferred from one country and incorporated in the building regulations and codes of another country with little or no amendment. Also, codes of practice, with certain limitations, can be adopted on an international basis. Through these forms of international cooperation at the initial stages of the reformulation programme, there are opportunities for saving time, financial and human resources.

(g) Newly-formulated regulations and codes

In the revision exercise, redrafting should cover the legal component (Acts, by-laws and Ordinances), the technical issues (building regulations and codes of practice), the enforcement and administrative procedures and back-up services. It is desirable for the different components to be drafted as separately as is possible, because they require different skills; however, they may be published in a combined form. The most difficult aspect is the drafting of legal issues, and it is, therefore, an advantage to restrict, as much as possible, all legislative matters to the Acts, by-laws and ordinances.

Where building regulations and codes of practice are devoid of legal issues, their drafting is a relatively straightforward technical task. Nevertheless, this could be a very intricate assignment, because the drafting involves several complex professional disciplines - electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, structural engineering, soil mechanics and a host of other disciplines. The drafting should reflect the mutual dependence of professionals, technicians and apprentices of each of the technical disciplines in the construction industry. This can be a very frustrating experience, if not properly dealt with.

The production of technical documents such as codes of practice, should practically undergo a continuous amendment exercise until such a time that there is uniformity of opinion on the contents between the drafting parties and all other groups, agencies or professionals concerned in one way or the other with enforcing the stipulated requirements. For example, a competent body of mechanical engineers may be responsible for drafting the technical requirements for installations, however, it is desirable that whatever they draft it should be subject of review by a body of architects, to ascertain conformity within design principles; the fire service department, to ensure that the provisions are in line with fire-safety precautions; and the enforcing agencies, to ensure that the requirements could be enforced with available resources. In some instances, the drafting of the technical issues may only be finalized after a period of field trials to evaluate how the contents are interpreted and applied by the local users.

With respect to the legal aspects in Building Acts and Ordinances, documents can only be published and enforced when they have been ratified or at such a time as they can be deemed to have attained full legislative status. Because of this requirement, the drafting of Acts for building regulations should be done within the limitations which legislative processes impose in country. However, the technical components of regulatory instruments, such as codes of practice which act as guides to good construction performance can be enforced after the drafting is completed and without necessarily waiting for any legislative approval.

(h) Institutional arrangements

When a government makes a decision to revise its building regulations and codes, one agency should bear the responsibility for carrying out the operation from the initial stages to the time when the new set of instruments becomes workable. The activities to be undertaken in a revision programme are numerous and, often, almost every single activity is the responsibility of a separate ministry or agency. Sometimes, a seemingly simple activity may fall under the responsibility of two or more agencies. There is no standard approach to revision in terms of institutional arrangements, because it is likely that each country operates with a peculiar pattern of institutions or agencies handling basic activities in the construction sector.

Despite the differences in approach between one country and the next, there are some issues which are basic and of common application. Responsibilities in a programme of reformulation can be separated into permanent and temporary activities, and, accordingly, the institutional arrangements should cater for the two separate activities. The revision of building regulations and codes, once it has been initiated, should be considered a permanent activity. Revision or modification of the reformulated instruments should be done in a continuous manner, so that, at any time, they can incorporate changes.

Past experiences have shown that, this permanent function can be provided either by a ministry, as part of its day-to-day operations, or by a permanent committee made up of representatives from concerned agencies. Whichever option is adopted, it should be kept in mind that bearing the overall responsibility for the revision of regulations and codes is a very challenging assignment for which adequate support and resources should be provided. For instance, a ministry of works and housing could be a popular choice as an agency with the permanent function of revision. However, it can only cope with the extra load and carry out this function effectively if a corresponding expansion programme is carried out in the ministry.

Part of the activities which can be classified as temporary in relation to the reformulation of regulations and codes is the designation of agencies or committees to promote basic back-up services and also to promote certain aspects of the enforcement process. Even though most of these activities should normally be the responsibility of already established ministries in their day-to-day operations, it will require an additional effort for the agencies to function in such a way as to meet the specific objectives of the reformulation programme.

For instance, it may be desirable to assign more than one institution the responsibility for ensuring that a provision for locally-produced building materials is incorporated in newly-formulated codes. This single assignment could involve a building research institute, a standards institution, a geological survey department, a manufacturer's association and a financing institution. Specific tasks could be assigned to each organization, and in each organization a special sub-committee might have to be set up for this purpose. In addition, an inter-agency committee could be temporarily established to provide the desired coordinating function. In India, for example, a special panel was set up with the responsibility for preparing a methodology for implementing the newly-formulated codes on a country-wide basis.

(i) Considerations for low-income settlements

In order to attach greater importance to the improvement of low-income settlements, special provisions will have to be made in the revision of building regulations and codes. In this regard the type of construction requirements of the low-income groups should be reflected in all aspects of regulatory instruments. For example, already built-up slums and squatter settlements have to be upgraded with the objective of ensuring safety, health and orderly development, and of promoting the use of building materials and resources which are affordable by the low-income population. If non-conventional methods of housing delivery, such as self-help and other community-participation methods, are to continue to be the mainstay of low-income housing, regulations and codes should be reformulated to reflect such methods.

With regard to legal component of regulations and codes, it may be desirable to exempt existing built-up of low-income settlements from conventional regulatory procedures. The drafting of technical rules for improving or building low-income shelter may have to be based on field manuals supported by actual demonstration projects. Special back-up services should aim at improving the existing limited construction techniques of the low-income population and improving the means of delivery for non-conventional low-income shelter.

As mentioned earlier, the nature of construction activities in low-income settlements is such that the benefits of building, regulations and codes can only be realized if they are applied in a manner different from those regulating other construction activities. Unless a special effort is made it is likely that the main components of existing instruments - regulations, codes and enforcement procedures - will be reformulated with little or no impact on low-income settlements.

It is possible to have one standard institutional arrangement with the same resource persons handling the reformulation of building regulations and codes for the entire construction sector, but, if this approach is adopted, special provisions will have to be made to respond to the peculiar needs of low-income settlements. Alternatively, a separate institutional mechanism could be set up, with the responsibility for preparing regulations and codes solely for low-income settlements. This will require a different methodology and different terms of reference, probably involving a different set of ministries or agencies and, above all, requiring specialized skills and resources.

Houses constructed with stabilized soil blocks - Nazareth, Ethiopia

One important task that should be fulfilled is for the regulations and codes to reflect the fact that, for most of the low-income population, construction requirements will continue to be met by already-built dwellings. Also, the resource personnel drafting new instruments for low-income settlements should bear in mind that the majority of the builders in low-income settlements do not possess formal skills in construction and that, if they are to be provided guidance in good construction practice, this will require a special technique in the drafting of codes, preferably supported by wide-scale demonstration projects.


On the basis of previous discussions it can be concluded that the existing regulatory devices of the construction sector in most African countries do not meet the requirements of the bulk of population. They are socially divisive, are oriented towards urban with less focus on rural development, do not effectively reflect national development priorities or the needs of low-income populations, require skills and materials that are unavailable. They also tend to depress the quality of life of those who cannot comply with the enacted standards. Therefore, an attempt has been made, in this paper, to summarize and compile a list of issues in order to draw the attention of decision-makers and professionals to some of the critical areas of concern. The list is not exhaustive, and it may be modified. It is however hoped that clarification of some of the points mentioned below will provide insights into appropriate national and international action that can be taken in the field of building regulations and codes.

(a) Economic and social aspects

(1) How can codes and regulations be made consistent and compatible with national development goals, especially national housing and urban development policies that pertain to low-income populations and that seek to achieve such objectives as employment creation, increased construction sector activities?

(2) How can building regulations address the needs of all groups of the population while simultaneously adhering to standards of equality of treatment?

(3) How should codes and regulations support and encourage shelter and infrastructure rehabilitation programmes and strengthen relationships between the formal and informal sectors of the economy? What should be the nature of this interaction? How can capacities of the informal sector be strengthened through appropriate codes and regulations?

(4) What incentives could be provided to encourage people to comply with the requirements of codes and regulations?

(5) Should building codes be designed to deal with problems and conditions of geographic areas or of groups of the population regardless of location? Should emphasis be placed on socio-economic or physical conditions? What kind of institutional mechanisms is required to deal with basic human needs comprehensively and in conjunction with codes and regulations? How can fundamental needs, e.g. basic infrastructural services be effectively satisfied by means of requirements in codes and regulations when resources are scarce?

(6) What are the major constraints that affect the development of innovative standards to improve the low-cost construction outputs?

(7) What are the values that should be incorporated into code formulation and standard setting and how are these qualitative aspects determined? What measures should be taken to ensure that the establishment of standards acceptable to the poor will not lead to the creation of substandard housing conditions?

(8) How can the use of professional expertise be harmonized with the need to base codes on requirements and priorities determined by the people directly concerned? What should be the respective roles of public authorities and local residents?

(9) How can codes and regulations balance the need to arrest housing decay and deterioration in high density areas with the requirement that such areas should continue to house the poorer residents? What are the levels of acceptability of substandard housing based on codes and regulations?

(10) What are the factors and services that are important to health in the built environment? Are significant innovations needed to make them affordable in low-income settlements? How can research support changes in traditional public health legislation?

(b) Technical and qualitative aspects

(1) What types of data, including scientific and empirical knowledge, are needed to formulate, revise and enforce codes? Can these data be obtained and assembled, and at what cost? How should code revision proceed? How can the performance of existing codes be monitored and modified?

(2) What should a building code cover so as to relate it with other public regulations governing the built environment?

(3) How can codes and regulations balance the need to develop appropriate technology and an indigenous construction industry? How can they meet the need for construction activities which require specialized skills and sophisticated technology and which only multinational construction firms can undertake? How should codes balance environmental and conservation concerns with the increased use of local materials and renewable resources?

(4) How can quality standards, technical specifications and regulations which are appropriate in the formal sector take into account the non-conventional construction activities that are carried out in the informal sector with little capital and simple tools?

(5) How can cost-effective testing techniques be devised to control quality compliance with code requirements? How and where should testing be performed? Who should pay for it? How can relevant testing and research information be incorporated into the code? How can relevant testing and research information be incorporated into the code? How can research and testing methodologies appropriate to prevailing circumstances in poor countries be developed? How can standards and specifications be produced for traditional materials?

(6) How should the maintenance of low-income shelter and basic infrastructure be dealt with in codes and regulations?

(7) To what degree should codes and regulations facilitate the improvement of the performance of construction activities for the benefit of low-income settlements so that such settlements need not follow the high-energy-use patterns of developed countries?

(8) What should be the minimum requirements for structural safety and durability of low-cost shelter to be stipulated in building codes and regulations?

(c) Legal, administrative and financial aspects

(1) What types of institutions should be established or called upon to assist in the formulation and/or revision of codes and regulations? What should be the role of private professional organizations, public administrators, etc., in this process?

(2) Is it possible or advisable to formulate comprehensive codes, i.e. codes that include statutory regulations governing buildings, public health and land planning? How should codes address the differences between urban and rural conditions? How should geographical differences be addressed?

(3) What criteria should be used in evaluating codes? Manageability? Enforceability? Sustainability to conditions and resources?

(4) How should codes and regulations be used to bring about desired land-use patterns such as the clustering of income-generating activities in order to rationalize facility distribution systems, access to credit, etc.? How should codes and regulations deal with informal-sector?

(5) How can codes and regulations coordinate solutions to sectoral problems?

(6) How should codes be conceived to ensure that they lead to regulatory efficiency and at the same time lend themselves to revision in order to reflect changing priorities and different low-income settlement conditions and construction practices?

(7) What types of institutional obstacles lie in the process of code revision and the formulation of new codes? How should these obstacles be dealt with and what practical approaches are required to encourage long lasting changes?

(8) If rural areas are to be the subject of codes different from those applied in urban areas, what types of codes and enforcement procedures should be adopted? What special methods should be applied in order to use codes as instruments for development? How can compliance with codes be dealt with? Which authority should enforce such codes? What special assistance would be required to enforce codes and how would enforcement be financed? How should codes promote the use of appropriate technologies for rural areas?

(9) Should lending institutions follow a policy of cost recovery for all investments in low-income settlements? How can the need for cost recovery be harmonized with public efforts to cross-subsidize the needs of the poor? What would be the role of codes and regulations in this respect?

(10) How can codes regulate the upgrading of low-income settlements if improvement programmes are financed by non-traditional sources?

(11) How do financial institutions influence and initiate changes in codes? Who should establish criteria for requirements established by financial institutions?

(12) In view of the fact that the control exercised by public health authorities is often arbitrary and inappropriate to the real needs and priorities of the urban poor, how can codes ensure that the relationship between housing and health is dealt with adequately?

(d) Information and training aspects

(1) What are the key aspects of codes and regulations that ought to be disseminated, and how can information be conveyed most effectively to various groups of the urban and rural population?

(2) What special programmes would be needed to ensure that codes and regulations are adequately interpreted and complied with in low-income settlements? What incentives would lead to compliance? How should information on finance and land tenure be introduced and disseminated?

(3) What kind of special training programmes would be required to upgrade the skills of artisans so that they could contribute to the gradual upgrading of construction standards?

(4) How can a direct and continuous flow of information on codes and regulations to finance agencies be ensured? What kind of information should be transmitted to finance agencies?

(5) How can the training of skilled craftsmen be effectively related to code requirements? How can codes stimulate the improvement of skills? What incentives are needed to motivate workers to upgrade their skills.

(6) Which aspects of codes and regulations should higher education institutions include in their curricula? Should this occur only where a coherent code system has been instituted?

(7) What is the best publication format for presenting codes to the general population so that they are accessible, inexpensive, understandable and practical? Should building codes also serve as a form of training manual on building techniques?

(8) How should the subject of standards, especially those relating to the needs of low-income populations, be treated in professional education programmes for architects and engineers?