Cover Image
close this bookGSS in Action: Global Strategy for Shelter to the Year 2000 (HABITAT, 1992, 105 p.)
close this folderSuccess stories in shelter
close this folderLatin America
View the document(introduction...)
Open this folder and view contentsBolivia
View the documentChile
Open this folder and view contentsColombia
View the documentCosta Rica


Colombia has recently given new roles to old actors it

- reformed its institutions
- revised existing laws and regulations
- strengthened local governments
- created a subsidy for low-income home buyers

Bolivia, to confront its huge shelter deficit, has made reforms which include:

- new institutional arrangements
- new financial arrangements
- encouraging cooperation between public and private sectors
- increasing the role of the private sector
- increasing the role of local governments

The massive squatter settlement of Aguablanca, in Cali, Colombia, has been upgraded as a result of

- broad participation from the community, an NGO, a bank and the Cali Municipality
- modifying existing building regulations
- increasing the supply of affordable land
- upgrading existing buildings
- producing new housing units
- streamlining legal producers

Costa Rica's bamboo project has made a contribution to that country's housing needs by

- being environmentally sound
- using a low-cost, renewable resource - bamboo - for building
- promoting the use of ingenous building materials
- planting bamboo for future use in building

Low-income households in Chile have benefited from a targeted subsidy scheme which

- gives grants and subsidies to eligible low-income families
- makes loans available to middle - income families
- encourages personal savings

Latin America



1,098,581 sq km

Population (1990)

7.3 million

Average rate of population growth (1985-1990)

2.8% p.a.

Estimated population by the year 2000

9.7 million

Average population density (1990)

6.7 inhabitants per sq km

Urban Population (1990)


G.N.P. per capita (1988)

$US 570

Capital City: La Paz u.a (1990)

1.3 million

Other cities:


El Alto



Santa Cruz


Bolivia is facing a massive housing deficit. To meet this challenge, a number of reforms have been introduced - new institutions set up, new financial arrangements made, private sector participation encouraged and local governments strengthened. These reforms are designed to assist Bolivia to provide adequate homes for both rural and urban noon

Reforms pave the way for a new shelter policy

The high, mountainous terrain of Bolivia was the site of a number of important indigenous cultures that reached high levels of sophistication, social organization and art. Part of the fabled Inca civilization which originated in Peru was located here. With the arrival of Spanish conquerors, Bolivia's rich mineral deposits were looted to support Spain's massive global empire. The town of Potosi in southern Bolivia was the richest source of silver that the world had ever known: it was said that a bridge of silver could have been built from Potosi to Spain, so much bullion was trekked out on llama or mule-back from the mountains to the sea, and thence, by galleon to Spain. Indeed, the ancient volcano by which Potosi stands used to be called Cerro Rico, the Mountain of Riches.

The riches are no longer there. Very little silver is mined, and although tin mining is important, the country is poor. About half the population is engaged in agriculture and survives on a staple diet of potatoes supplemented with a little meat from the llama herds. Their traditional homes are sturdy, stone-built houses thatched with grass in the barren uplands, or huts of grass and totora reeds in the lowlands and around Lake Titicaca, a high montane lake on the border with Peru.

Housing in Bolivia faces a number of challenges. One is to defy the persistent cold found at such high altitudes, as chilly winds blow across a plateau, the altiplano, almost a thousand kilometres long. There is a shortage of building materials in these harsh uplands as well as little fuel for house heating and the preparation of food. In the rural areas, the staple food, potatoes, are boiled over llama dung fires.

Although only 40 per cent of Bolivia's territory falls in the mountains, over half of the inhabitants live in the high Andes. The rest are divided between the more sheltered valleys and the warmer lowlands. There is therefore a rather uneven distribution of people and actual resources, making both communication and the provision of social amenities difficult, especially in the upland areas. The illiteracy rate of people above 15 years of age is close to 20 per cent, but is considerably higher for women.

Bolivia's urban population is growing at a rate of 4 per cent per annum. The current deficit is estimated at 300,000 dwelling units, and it must be recognized that much of the existing housing is unacceptably overcrowded. The true deficit is therefore closer to 700,000 units.

During the 1950s, the country introduced a period of agrarian reform in an attempt to incorporate the rural population into national affairs - no easy task where the population was widely scattered and living at subsistence level.

Since that time there have been periods of political turbulence and economic ups and downs. In 1985 the Government lost control of the economy, and run-away inflation set in at over 24,000 per cent per annum. This period of hyperinflation led to a series of drastic reforms. These reforms, which included rationalizing the tax structure, promoting incentives for private savings and investment, control of public spending and others, quickly brought Bolivia's galloping inflation down to 20 per cent per annum. By 1987 Bolivia had entered a period of sustained economic growth at around 3 per cent per annum.

The election of a new Government in 1989 led to the establishment in the following year of policies which were designed to enhance economic stability and social development. At this time, education, health services and housing all became national priorities, within a system of political decentralization.

In housing, many of Bolivia's policies have developed in line with the Global Strategy for Shelter. New institutions have been set up to serve growing needs. One, of great importance, was the National Federation of Credit Unions and Cooperatives (FENACRE) which has steadily developed to keep abreast of the housing challenges caused by increasing urbanization. In 1990 FENACRE consisted of 215 cooperatives with a total membership of almost 350,000 individuals, 40 per cent of whom are in the rural areas.

A census in 1976 showed that 44 per cent of Bolivia's housing stock was in bad condition. Most of these houses were in the rural areas. Three-quarters were without potable water, adequate sewage disposal and other facilities.

Of significance to low-income families, therefore, was the setting up of new financial arrangements for shelter. The Fondo Nacional de la Vivienda (FONVI) now receives a 3 per cent payroll tax amounting to $US 12 million per annum as well as other sources of cash expected to total $US 60 million per year, in the near future. This will be channelled into a system of lowinterest loans for low-cost housing projects, in cooperation with the Institute for Social Housing (IVS). With sound financial arrangements in place, the poor folk of Bolivia have hopes for an improved housing situation in the future.

The main emphasis in housing reform in Bolivia has been the modification of the role of the public sector and an increase in the importance of the private sector. Although cooperation between the two sectors has been encouraged, private-sector participation in particular has been encouraged. These approaches follow the philosophy of the Global Strategy for Shelter.

Housing policies have also been decentralized with more power to local governments. This reorganization has been carried out by the Bolivian Association of Urban Affairs Organizations, ASOBUR, the diverse members of which come from commercial banks, savings-and-loan organizations, cooperatives, and labour organizations, as well as university and research organizations. Another of ASOBUR's roles is to obtain better representation of its individual members within the policy-making process of the housing sector.

The current annual production of 30,000 units will have to be increased to a level closer to 80,000 if the goal of shelter for all by the year 2000 is to be achieved. If this is so, then the present emphasis on the private sector may have to be modified to include greater participation by the informal sector. Greater cooperation and sharing of responsibilities to meet the special housing needs of this high-altitude, mountainous country may well be needed in the future.

Improved land-registration systems in the Andean highlands

Hyperinflation in the past has caused a tremendous fall in the collection of land taxes in Bolivia, as real-estate values listed in the cadastres - or land registration systems became obsolete. Municipalities did not have the funds to invest in the construction or maintenance of infrastructure and services. In 1986, a self-assessment of real estate was introduced. The landlords, using a cumbersome methodology, declared under oath the value of their estates. Although tax revenues increased substantially, only 25 per cent of the potential collection was attained. A solution was urgently needed to strengthen municipal finances. This was found with the SIS-CAT computerized system.

A single system for land registration

SIS-CAT, a system of cadastral information, starts with aerial photographs of all the districts of the city. They are computerized, digitized and stored in a computer hard disk. This graphic information - which was done in parts can then be integrated, and maps of a district or of the entire city can then be plotted. Following international standards, a code is given first to the districts, and later to the blocks and the plots.

Simultaneously, field research is planned. Survey forms are designed, and surveyors trained through courses and manuals. The survey is done plot by plot, collecting physical data on the size and shape of plots and buildings, and documentary data information about the owner, title deeds and land use. In addition, the state of the roads and services is surveyed. All this information is fed into SIS-CAT for processing. Thus, each plot has its own information file within the hard disk of the computer.

Such information is valuable for the purposes of setting up an urban development plan able to guide the growth of a city, for determining the land uses desired, and for improving and enlarging the different networks, such as water supply and electricity. Land ownership can be precisely stated. This can avoid frauds, for example selling the same estate twice. These are among the advantages of this land registration system in urban development.

To meet shelter needs, local authorities require financial resources that can be obtained through land taxes and by matching the listed values in the cadastre with market prices. This has also been done in the system, following carefully the commercial real-estate transactions in the city. These data are also fed into the main central file, to be processed graphically and analytically to identify the properties and their owners. Data can be quickly updated with this high-tech system to allow the Municipality of El Alto to meet its development needs.

To meet Bolivia's urgent shelter needs, financial resources are needed from land taxes and other sources. To improve the efficiency of revenue collection, a new computerized system of land registration has been introduced. Used first in the expanding city of El Alto, it is planned to extend it to other parts of Bolivia.

The land-registration system, a successful pilot project executed by UNCHS (Habitat) in El Alto has so far surveyed 276 hectares, comprising 5000 plots. It will be extended to cover 1600 hectares, a substantial part of the city.

Once the system is fully operational at El Alto, it will be extended to the whole country, through the office of the Ministry of Urban Affairs of Bolivia.



756,945 sq km

Population (1990)

13.2 million

Average rate of population growth (1985-1990)

1.7% p.a.

Estimated population by the year 2000

15.3 million

Average population density (1990)

17.4 inhabitants per sq km

Urban population (1990)


G.D.P. per capita (1988)

$US 1510

Capital city: Santiago u.a. (1990)

4.7 million

Other cities:




Maria Sepulveda and her husband relax on the porch of their new timber house. Under Chilie's scheme of compassionate subsidies, Maria's family were entitled to the type of loan aimed at the poorest of the urban poor. People in other circumstances are entitled to other loans.

Subsidies for those most in need

Maria Sepulveda has had some difficult times in her life. Her husband was injured in a logging accident at his work-place near the southern Chile town of Puerto Montt some years ago, and since that time her family has been dogged by financial problems. Yet one thing has gone well for M aria and her crippled husband. They have succeeded in obtaining a fine timber house to shelter them from the high rainfall and the winter snow of southern Chile. This home is now the centre of their world.

It was made possible by the introduction of a compassionate system to help low-and middle-income households to obtain housing. The basis of this recently-introduced system is a number of housing subsidy schemes.

The subsidies are given in a considerate manner to people attempting to purchase their homes. The scheme enables the poorest households to get the maximum subsidy. The system is very important because it allows 88 per cent of Chile's population access to housing.

The Government makes grant awards to eligible families from funds derived mainly from international loans. For example, a World Bank loan of $US 200 million was made available to the Government of Chile for the housing subsidy programme, which covers almost 20 per cent of the total investment. Similarly, the Inter-American Development Bank has put forward a loan of $US 70 million for Chile's Sites and Services Scheme.

Maria's family was eligible for the type of loan known as Marginal Urban, aimed at the poorest of the urban poor. Under this scheme, a household can receive a subsidy of 75 per cent of the total cost of either a core house or a serviced plot. Maria and her husband opted for the core house, which consisted of three rooms. The cost of this core unit was approximately $US 3200.

Other types of subsidies are available to people in other circumstances. The Urban Loan applies to the needs of people in the low- and middle-income sector in particular, and decreases as the value of the unit increases. The loan can be repaid over a 10- to 30-year period, and the property that is being paid for by the loan becomes the loan guarantee.

Another subsidy is designed to suit people in the rural areas or in small settlements of less that 2500 inhabitants. About 6500 subsidies are made per year under this part of the programme to a maximum of about $US 2700.

In addition, there is a special category, targeted again at low- and middle-income sectors which are granted through unions, municipalities and organizations. A total of 15,000 grants are made annually, valued at about $US 1000 each. In 1989, the total number of housing units being subsidized in Chile was 79,000.

For housing transactions, an alternative to the regular currency is in use. This is called the Unidad de Fomento (Unit of Development) or UF. In September 1989, one UP was equivalent to approximately 5100 Chilean pesos, roughly equivalent to $US 17. The value of the unit varies and is examined and assessed on a monthly basis by the Examiner of Banks and Financial Institutions. All savings and financial pledges in Chile are expressed in UFs, as are all housing transactions.

Maria's core house, for example, cost 200 UFs (approximately $US 3400) for which she received a 75 per cent subsidy of 150 UFs.

People who are aiming for home-ownership are encouraged to save and are rewarded when they do so, in two different ways. First, the number of UFs deposited in a savings account are rewarded by points; secondly, points are also awarded for UFs not included in the loan request. The progress of each saver is checked after six months and if the individual has fulfilled his or her obligation, extra points are awarded. The points earn savings bonuses. Long-term savings contracts with cooperatives or institutions can only be signed for periods of 18 months or longer. In addition, the Government guarantees deposits of up to 108 UFs ($US 1944). Points are also awarded for the length of time that money is left in the account. In March 1989,416,000 housing-related savings accounts were in operation in Chile.

Those subsidy schemes have been developed in a difficult economic climate. During the decade starting in 1980, inflation varied between 9.5 per cent and 31.2 per cent with an average of 20.6 per cent. Despite these difficulties the Government has committed itself to the production and sale of housing units for low-income families, subsidizing the transactions, guaranteeing mortgage loans, and encouraging personal and family savings by offering bonuses on sums of money saved'

By these equitable and humanitarian policies based around an easy-to-use subsidy system, the Chilean Government has enabled 90 per cent of its people to have access to adequate housing. This system of subsidies is a recommendation of the Global Strategy for Shelter which is promoting the provision of shelter for all by the year 2000.



1,138,914 sq km

Population (1990)

31.8 million

Average rate of population growth (1985-1990)

2.1% p.a.

Estimated population by the year 2000

38.0 million

Average population density (1990)

27.9 inhabitants per sq km

Urban population (1990)


G.N.P. per capita (1988)

$US 1240

Capital city: Bogota u.a. (1990)

5.6 million

Other cities:





The new housing plan of Colombia recognizes the importance of informal builings and, with an enabling approach, supports families' efforts to achieve access to adequate shelter.

New roles for old actors

In the sixteenth century, conquerors from Spain and one of the German principalities arrived almost simultaneously at the Sabana de Bogota, a high plateau located in the centre of what is now Colombia. They were looking for Eldorado, the golden country. Indian tribes, such as the Quimbaya and Muisca, manufactured beautiful gold sculptures that were used by the chiefs and warriors to decorate themselves and their homes.

Most of the gold was melted down by the conquerors and sent to Spain by ships which departed from Cartagena de Indias, where the gold from Peru and the silver from Bolivia arrived after a long journey by land. On their trip to Europe, the galleons were attacked by pirates, Morgan and Drake among them, who managed to capture some of them. The very few gold pieces that remained can still be seen at the Gold Museum in Bogota.

Eldorado has vanished. There is no longer a golden country. However, what the Colombians inherited from their ancestors - sculptors of gold, stone and clay - is a passion for arts. And of these, architecture is the most important.

Architecture is above all housing design and construction. To express its interest in shelter, Colombia in 1932 founded one of the oldest housing institutions of Latin America, the BCH, or Central Mortgage Bank, to finance the construction of dwellings. In 1939 it created the Instituto de Credito Territorial to provide housing. After the Second World War, Colombia and the Organization of American States (OAS), co-sponsored CINVA, the Inter-American Centre for Housing, where experts from all over the continent were trained. Later, other institutions such as Bouw-centrum de Colombia and CENAC carried out research on shelter.

In 1972, the Government created an indexed system for housing financing, indexing both savings and loans. This-was to mobilize more financial resources for shelter, as part of a strategy that linked construction, and particularly housing construction, to the overall macroeconomic policies for development. One decade later, the country implemented ambitious policies for de-centralization, with popular election of mayors and then transfer of funds from the central Government to the local governments.

All these steps have helped to reduce the quantitative deficit in Colombia, until it is now almost non-existent. However, there is still an important qualitative deficit, which has to be solved by improvement or replacement of inadequate dwelling units. Moreover, at least 100,000 dwellings per year must be built to meet the needs of new household formation in the country.

That is why Colombia has recently formulated a Social Housing Programme. Its main goal is to build 500,000 new houses in four years through. reorganization of the shelter sector, targeted and transparent subsidies, decentralization, community participation, privatesector involvement and increased responsibilities for the municipalities.

Colombia: New Roles for old Actors - Actions of the national system for housing of social interest

The Colombian system of social interest housing includes:

· New dwelling units for households with an income of 0 to 2 minimum monthly salaries;
· New dwelling units for households with an income of 2 to 4 minimum monthly salaries;
· New dwelling units for households with an income of 4 to 6 minimum monthly salaries;
· Priority urban projects,
· Upgrading of housing,
· Slum rehabilitation,
· Urban renewal,
· Financing for dwelling units being resold,
· Legislation of spontaneous settlements.

The housing deficit in Colombia is not caused by a lack of dwelling units but by the subnormal conditions of 1.8 million units, or 29 per cent of the housing stock. Of these 980,000 are overcrowded, and about 380,000 lack services. New households demand 100,000 dwelling units per year.

In the 1980s, Colombia's formal sector built an average of almost 90,000 dwellings per year. It is estimated that 40 per cent of the new dwelling units have been informally built, at a high social cost. To solve these problems, Colombia has started an enabling approach to facilitate the action of all the actors involved in the shelter process.

Actors and actions

The Instituto de Credito Territorial (ICT), the oldest housing agency in Colombia, will abandon its 50-year-old role of provider to become an enabler of the activity of the municipalities and communities. ICT will no longer build or finance shelter, and as the centre of the National Housing System will use subsidy allocations as a tool to guide shelter building activities. It will also support the local authorities and the communities with technical assistance. To assume this new role, its administrative systems will be modernized, and its technical profile readdressed, to be able to support the urban reform by preparing projects, financing, and subsidizing legislation and regularization of spontaneous settlements.

Savings and housing corporations

The 10 private (or public/private) corporations for housing will be enabled to finance lowcost dwellings at low rates of interest because they will be free to determine the interest rates for builders and for buyers of medium-and high-cost dwelling units thus making cross-subsidies. Thirty per cent of their holdings should be addressed to low-cost housing. Law 9 of 1989 has recently been modified to allow these corporations to finance low-cost dwelling units with the social UPAC system, an indexed financial system which can now reduce the annual growth of the instalments from 15 per cent per year to only 8 per cent per year, thanks to the subsidies. Dwelling units financed by the corporations will be constructed by private builders or by community-based organizations (CBOs).

Compensation banks (Cajas de compensaci

One per cent of all the payrolls will be addressed to housing, through subsidies transferred to ICT by the "Cajas de Compensaciamilia", private and public institutions in charge of paying the family subsidy to households of low income.

Municipal funds for housing

These funds will finance housing not only for civil servants but for all the community. Therefore, representatives of the CBOs and managers of the public-service enterprises (water supply, sewerage and electricity) will have a seat in their boards of directors. The funds will be free to grant credits at the interest rates and repayment periods they wish.

Land Development Finance Agency (Financiera de Desarrollo Territorial)

This institution is responsible for the financing of infrastructure. Therefore it will grant credit to the municipalities for integral subdivisions of land used for low-cost housing. These loans include financing for the purchase and improvement of land; construction of roads and drainage systems, of secondary networks (water supply and electricity) as well as the building of community facilities (for education, recreation, health etc.).

The amount of credit needed by the municipalities might vary due to community participation. In most cases, thanks to full municipal support end self-help construction, the long-term financing would be zero, because the subsidy granted by the country to the poorest households would be approximately equal to the cost of the building materials of the less expensive dwelling units (about $US 1000 per unit).

Central Mortgage Bank (Banco Central Hipotecario)

This institution, with over 58 years of experience in financing housing and infrastructure, will usher in a profound change. As an official housing and savings corporation, the Bank will specialize in financing the upgrading of the existing housing stock: granting loans for housing improvements, the subdivision or enlargement of dwelling units, the purchase of used shelter units and for urban projects of special interest.

Agrarian Bank (Caja Agraria)

The fund for rural housing, managed by the CA, will subsidize and grant credits for the purchase, building and upgrading of housing, as well as for co-financing local shelter programmes in municipalities with less than 12,000 inhabitants.

The Housing Programme

A law recently approved by the Colombian Parliament defined the housing programme as follows:

- The central Government will grant direct and indirect subsidies to low-income households for the purchase of dwelling units as a complement to the down payment and the mortgage financing they can obtain from public or private institutions.

- ICT will channel family subsidies for housing to programmes of incremental houses carried out by local authorities and by organizations for popular housing. ICT will also mobilize subsidies for housing the rural population through the Fund for Rural Housing of the Agrarian Bank.

- ICT will grant subsidies to households with incomes lower than 4 minimum monthly salaries that obtain credit with private institutions and certify previous savings. Besides that, ICT will promote local programmes - urban or rural - for construction of low-cost dwellings. It will promote the instruments for urban reform, and legalize spontaneous settlements, subsidizing of necessity the expenses demanded by these programmes. ICT will grant credit to municipalities and local institutions through financial intermediaries. This shelter agency will stop buying land, contracting construction and financing to individuals.

BCH will stop direct execution of projects and will mainly promote urban recycling through mortgage financing of upgrading, enlargement, subdivision, real-estate integration, land readjustment, slum rehabilitation, purchase of used housing and special urban projects.

Housing for the poorest-a study in co-operation in Aguablanca, Cali

The city of Cali, Colombia's third largest city is situated in the valley of Lili, bounded by hills to the west and the river Cauca to the east. During the 1960s and 1970s the city received large numbers of rural migrants and it grew rapidly to its present size of 1.5 million people, mainly as a result of the growth of spontaneous settlements around the edge of the town.

One such area of massive squatter growth was Aguablanca, a district of 300,000 very poor people living in substandard and inadequate conditions on an area of flat land to the east of Cali. Their homes were largely squalid shacks of wood or bamboo, with no facilities or infrastructure. Aguablanca was considered to be the most depressed area of Cali and a social time bomb which could go off at any time. Yet, until the 1980s, the problems of this area had not been faced and its residents continued to subsist in squalor and degradation. Changes were urgently needed for the people of Aguablanca.

These changes came as a result of the social policies of Colombia's President, whose national policy was a "Change with Equity" Development Plan. The 1982 electoral campaign had housing as a key issue, and the Aguablanca Project was born. It was, in fact, a local response to a national policy and grew from a pilot project to a programme on a national scale to solve an urgent housing problem.

The unique feature of this project was the cooperation that developed between the public and private sectors, NGOs, central and local government offices as well as university departments and research centres, all in collaboration with the grass-roots community of Aguablanca itself to solve a problem of urban development, and to assist low-income families with an urgent housing problem. To do this, no less than ten different organizations and agencies worked together to participate in what became an integrated community development project.

At the start, the Banco Central Hipotecario (BCH) or Central Mortgage Bank, the Fundaciarvajal, an NGO active in housing in Colombia, and the municipality of Cali agreed to work with the community of Aguablanca to solve its urgent housing problem by providing low-cost shelter with services, based on sound planning and the rational use of land, materials and designs.

The role of the Central Mortgage Bank, BCH, a national financing institution for shelter development, was to solve problems in housing finance both for individuals and NGOs involved in the programme. It set up a Special Programme Bureau to co-ordinate community participation to solve national housing problems while BCH set out to reach and involve the poorest members of society. It provided resources for both housing and infrastructure and set up financial mechanisms that would assist low-income people with housing problems.

The second major participant in the Aguablanca project was the Carvajal Foundation, an NGO which had done a lot of good work in poor neighbourhoods before the onset of the project. Their new role was an important one - to organize supplies of construction materials, to train artisans to produce building materials, to channel BCH funds to small businesses concerned with producing building materials and to work closely with the community to involve them urban design and other matters of community participation.

Interlocked L-shaped houses use narrower plots which reduce the cost of infrastructure, by decreasing road length and increasing density. However, the width of the interior spaces is not affected.

The Municipality of Cali, would, through the Shelter Institute of Cali, INVICALI, provide the land required for the Programme and the installation of services (once the designs and plans had been approved by the Department of Municipal Planning), obtain legal authorizations to collaborate with the city's public services and authority to speed up installation of services, cooperate with other agencies to promote the implementation of the project.

Thus, from these agencies, an "Inter-institutional Agreement for a Pilot Urban Development Cell in Popular Settlements" was set up in January 1983, and was signed with the President as witness.

It was agreed from the very beginning that other agencies would also be involved to offer their expertise in different fields and make valuable inputs in different ways. These were the Instituto de Crto Territorial, (ICT) contributing experience and expertise in housing problems in Cali; the Centro Nacional de Estudios pare la ConstrucciCENAC) contributing architectural and city plans, and giving advice on budgets; and the Universidad del Valle, through its Faculty of Architecture, working on architectural and urban designs suited to the needs of the people. In addition, the National Statistical Department (DANE) produced information on the socio-economic situation of poor areas of Cali, the National Apprenticeship Service (SENA) trained small businessmen and builders and the Instituto Colombiano de Normas Ticas (INCONTEC) was involved in producing technical information on construction techniques and materials. Finally, the Corporaciare la Recreaciopular de Cali was required to incorporate recreational plans into the programme, particularly the design of a park.

The programme was managed by a governing council consisting of the Mayor of Cali, the Directors of BHC and the Carvajel Foundation and three others. In addition, two professional women were involved at the top level of management, as part of the executive secretariat to coordinate between the grass roots and the management.

The Aguablanca programme was developed within the framework of Cali's Integral Urban Development Plan (PIDECA). As the local housing deficit was estimated to be around 90,000 units, the project's first objectives were to legalize and upgrade squatter areas and, in addition, to introduce sites-and-services schemes to promote new building.

These aims were set in motion by legalizing building on unlicensed sites, producing plans to upgrade substandard dwellings, modifying existing building regulations to more realistic levels and designating a further 900 hectares on the edge of the city for low-cost housing development.

The success of the Aguablanca project depended on the introduction of "enabling strategies" which would assist ordinary people to have access to shelter. This is the main tenet of the Global Strategy for Shelter which advocates "Shelter for all by the year 2000." This project produced some innovative enabling strategies, not least of which were the financial arrangements made by BCH. For the first time in Colombia's history, a main financial institution moved into the low-income settlement areas of a city. By opening savings branches in Aguablanca, families were able to easily open savings accounts and make mortgage payments, i.e. to have access to the formal financial sector.

Other enabling strategies followed. EMCALI streamlined the installation and connection of water and electrical services; the municipal office approved the plans of a particular building within 24 hours, and the FFDU and BCH financed the upgrading of infrastructure. This project was determined to cut through the "red tape" that slows down housing development.

The project was originally planned to be involved with three parts of Aguablanca - Poblado I, an existing area of shanties which was to be upgraded, and at Vallado and Mojica where new settlements would be built. Because of legal entanglements, the Mojica area did not benefit from the project, but impressive achievements have been attained in the other two areas in the last six years.

The district of Poblado I has been significantly improved by upgrading of squatter's homes. The settlement now has a construction supply centre which produces an impressive range of building materials. It also benefits from a network of small shops and a BCH branch office. In addition, the Carvejal Foundation's medical and dental supply services have improved, and a system of recycling refuse has been introduced. Roads and pathways have been paved by cement-block paving stones which are now easily transported by wheelbarrows produced by a small business in the area.

The residents of Poblado I now benefit from the community and public facilities that include a school, a recreation centre and park, and a Family Attention Unit which focuses its attention on young people and the elderly as well as providing training courses for those who need them.

Demonstration houses that were built early on in the project to show people designs and building techniques have now become community facilities. One is now a health centre nun by the Carvajal Foundation and the other is a Children's Home, looked after by the Faculty of Social Work at the Universidad del Valle. This is a vast improvement from the original scenario, where almost 800 hundred families eked out their existence in cambuches or wooden shacks with no amenities at all.

Impressive improvements have also taken place in the El Vallado district, which now has over 2000 houses constructed under the agreement with appropriate infrastructure and services. Financial arrangements were made easy with families being asked to pay 30 per cent of their incomes for mortgage repayments under a 1 5-year loan arrangement.

In El Vallado, innovative house designs produced by the local planning department - based on a proposal done by CENAC when redesigning the district - cut the costs of infrastructure and building. These were designed around an L-shaped plan which would interlock together. As costs were cut, more people could then afford the houses.

Based on this original L-shaped design, a number of house plans were produced which served to give the people what they wanted. Original skepticism about the appropriateness of the design disappeared when the community built their homes easily and enjoyed living in them. Residents had a choice of having a wide street frontage with a verandah, or a rear garden or open space. Some preferred one option; others selected the alternative. The huge shady Pisamo trees that grew in the locality were left as they were and became a feature of the new residential area, offering shade to homes and gardens.

The Aguablanca project is a study in co-operation between the Government of Colombia, the community of a poor district of Cali, and the private sector. Despite the fact that cooperation had to be developed between 10 different agencies plus the community, initial problems were overcome and the participating agencies learnt to speak "a common language" that led them to a highly successful project with relevance to other cities and other parts of the world.

The project illustrates many of the recommendations from the Global Strategy for Shelter which aims to provide housing for all by the year 2000.

Costa Rica


51,100 sq km

Population (1990)

3.0 million

Annual rate of population growth (1985-1990)


Estimated population by the year 2000

3.7 million

Average population density (1990)

59.0 inhabitants per sq km

Urban population


G.N.P per capita (1988)

$US 1760

Capital city: San Jose u.a 1990

1.0 million

Other cities:


Puerto Lim/TD>


Bamboo as a light-weight building material has many advantages - one of which is the protection of the environment. The rain forests of Costa Rica are being felled at an enormous rate and the planting and utilization of bamboo can take pressure off the forests in a country where timber is the traditional building material.

Bamboo for shelter to protect the environment

The tropical rain forests of Costa Rica are disappearing at an alarming rate. If present trends continue, little will remain by the end of the century. Thus wood, the traditional building material in the rural areas, is a commodity which is becoming increasingly scarce and expensive.

Costa Rica has the highest rural population density in Latin America, with many housed in rough, dark huts which do not permit a decent standard of living. The country also has a serious housing deficit of about 130,000 units and needs 20,000 units per year to serve its growing population and to replace old buildings. These figures represent an enormous demand for building materials, both at present and in the future. Hence the need for a renewable supply of building materials which will not deplete the forests.

The answer has been found - fast-growing species of bamboo are now being used to alleviate Costa Rica's rural housing problems and to take pressure off the country's most pressing environmental problem - deforestation. Bamboo is providing an environmentally sound solution to an urgent housing problem.

At the beginning of the 1980s, the housing sector was severely affected by Costa Rica's economic crisis, which prevented the country from producing the number of housing units it had planned. In addition, the public sector, which assists low-income families, was forced to reduce its contribution by two-thirds of its previous targets. By 1984, therefore, the housing shortage in Costa Rica was critical and was as high as 25 per cent of existing housing stock.

Bringing together all these requirements, Costa Rica urgently needed a new approach to low-cost housing. To meet this need, the Government of the Netherlands, the Central American Bank for Economic Integration, UNCHS (Habitat) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) set up a five-year project to look into the qualities of bamboo as a potential, renewable, low-cost building material for rural housing. During this preparatory phase, four building sites were set up, technicians were trained in bamboo construction technologies, and seedbeds of bamboo were planted which could provide a continuous supply of building materials for the future. This pilot project led to the development of the Proyecto Nacional del Bambational Bamboo Project) now ongoing, under the directorship of a lady architect.

Bamboo, a building material with many useful properties, is used in the construction of traditional homes in many parts of the world, from Central America, through Central Africa, to East Asia - where bamboo is an indigenous plant.

Some of the many species of bamboo found worldwide can produce stems up to 30 metres high and of great tensile strength. Research within the project has identified two species, Guadua sur and G. atlantica - originally from Brazil and Colombia - as particularly appropriate species for building. Plantations of these two species are now being established to provide building materials in the future. At present, this environmentally sound project has developed almost 200 hectares of bamboo plantations and more will be planted.

Reafforestation with species other than bamboo is also being promoted by the project. This will reduce soil erosion in Costa Rica, which, as a result of forest loss, is causing arable land to be eroded, rivers to be silted up, dams and other development structures to be choked and marine ecosystems such as coral reefs to be destroyed by sedimentation. The loss of forests is also causing water shortages, especially in the San Jose metropolitan area.

Apart from its valuable environmental component, the project is producing pleasant, low-cost homes for rural people. The houses have a timber balloon frame, filled with a plastered mat of bamboo, which supports a roof of corrugated iron sheets. In total, a house uses less than 1.5 cubic metres of timber, thus substantially reducing the need for this scarce building material. Research on bamboo roofing sheets will follow in the near future, and research to develop a house that is built entirely from bamboo is in progress at the present time.

Bamboo is an excellent building material, provided that it has been adequately preserved. It must be cut at the right season so that the starch and water content of the wood are as low as possible to reduce the likelihood of decay. The stems must be stored in a dry place where there is no contact with soil so that the wood cannot be attacked by insects, particularly termites. The house must be designed so that the structure of the house is kept as dry as possible; an overhanging roof, for example, will protect the walls from rain. Bamboo is a useful building material in areas prone to earthquakes. During December 1990 Costa Rica experienced several serious earthquakes, and the bamboo homes remained intact. Their walls did not crack because of the flexible nature of bamboo. The seismicresistant properties of bamboo as a building material were established at this time.

In addition, bamboo can be treated with preservative chemicals. As it was not possible to find a locally available chemical preservative, boron is now being used. This is a relatively inexpensive substance harmless both to people and domestic animals and environmentally safe. Houses built from bamboo which has been preserved in these ways can last for more than 20 years.

In Costa Rica's National Bamboo Project, women are involved at every stage. Both men and women participate in the design, as well as in the construction phase, for bamboo is light to use. This project is therefore making full use of the talents and energy of all members of the community.

Community participation has been a feature this project from the beginning. Serving to help the indigenous communities in some remote areas of the country (e.g., the Terrabas Indians in the Talamanca Mountains), the recipients have been involved since the project's inception. At the very beginning, a workshop was held for local people, who were given the opportunity to say what they wanted in relation to their home. This participatory design workshop enabled designers to produce building plans in accordance with the wishes of the people. Now, in place of the dark, badly-ventilated homes that they have traditionally occupied, Costa Rica's poor are enjoying light, pleasant, well-ventilated homes with the facilities to improve their quality of life.

The project started in 1987 and is now being extended for a six-month period. A second phase will then run until 1995.

During the project, attractive, easy-to-read information and training materials have been produced, among them the periodical Bambusetum, to keep people up to date about recent developments and progress.

The project is having several important spin-off results. One is that research and technologies developed in the project are being disseminated throughout the Central American subregion and may serve to solve housing projects in other tropical centres. Secondly, it is contributing to the economic development of the subregion, as people are learning to produce handicrafts and fumiture in bamboo and are establishing incomegenerating activities.

The project has many features which are recommended in the Global Strategy for Shelter. It is environmentally sound and is based on the planting of bamboo which can be harvested six years later for building purposes. Its reafforestation strategy is reducing soil erosion and related environmental problems.

Essentially a rural development project based on the sustainable use of locally-available materials, the project involves broad participation within the community, especially input by women; has led to the development of appropriate technologies, improved rural architecture, and training and income-generating activities within the community.