|Journal of the Network of African Countries on Local Building Materials and Technologies - Volume 3, Number 1 (HABITAT, 1994, 44 p.)|
Adequate housing is defined in the Global Strategy for Shelter to the Year 2000 as tenurial security, adequate privacy, adequate space, adequate lighting and ventilation, adequate basic infrastructure and adequate location with regard to work and basic facilities, all at a reasonable cost. It must also meet basic requirements of structural stability and durability, and most importantly, affordability.
The question of what an adequate house is and whether governments have the resources to make housing available to all its citizens, particularly in the urban areas, is an extremely complex one. While the physical structure of the house, the infrastructure and facilities around it are important issues, they are largely dependent on whether low-cost building materials are available, whether skills and competence in the construction techniques are in place and whether policies and regulations favour the expansion and strengthening of the indigenous construction sector; all of which, in turn, depend on whether governments can afford to fulfil these prerequisites and make these conditions possible.
Since its inception, UNCHS (Habitat) has been actively involved in promoting the development of building materials and construction sectors to meet the requirements of housing delivery. This process began with the implementation of the Vancouver Declaration on Human Settlements in 1976, followed by the proclamation of 1987 as the International Year of Shelter for the Homeless and the adoption of the Global Strategy for Shelter to the Year 2000 by the United Nations General Assembly in 1988.
The Habitat II Conference and its preparatory process provide yet another important opportunity to facilitate improvements in the performance of the building materials and construction sectors for delivery of adequate housing to millions of homeless and marginalized groups who live in utmost misery in terms of housing and related amenities.
This paper attempts to highlight the main constraints to stimulating construction sector activities and describes how the Habitat II process can contribute to alleviating the current problems of the sector in many developing countries, particularly, in the countries of the African region.
II. CONTRIBUTION OF HABITAT II TOWARDS IMPROVING THE CONSTRUCTION SECTOR ACTIVITIES
Considering the importance of the construction sector in human settlements development, in general, and adequate housing delivery, in particular, and bearing in mind the two central themes of the Habitat II Conference which are:
(a) Sustainable human settlements development in an urbanizing world; and
(b) Adequate shelter for all
It leaves no doubt that the Habitat II process will lead to, among others, reaffirming the need for improved construction sector activities in order to meet the requirements of adequate housing and infrastructure delivery.
Given the fact that more people live in inadequate housing and have little or no access to basic infrastructure than was the case 20 years ago, Habitat II will identify the reasons why despite the great promise which the first Habitat Conference (Vancouver, 1976) appeared to hold then for global housing development, not enough progress has been made since. It will use new tools of analysis, and new approaches to examine trends in economic, social, institutional, policy and technological development; review the prevailing shortcomings; and suggest new areas of action to increase the rate of housing delivery by strengthened construction sector activities.
Habitat II will be a forum where national governments, non-governmental organizations, research institutions, professionals and entrepreneurs and all other actors involved in housing delivery will meet to, among other things, evaluate the present situation of the construction sector, assess its setbacks and look to its future, with its tremendous potential for an improved housing delivery and a better quality of life.
Habitat II will be a unique opportunity for international collaboration in meeting the deepening crisis facing the construction sector. It will provide an opportunity to bring together national and international resources, governmental and non-governmental expertise to develop a global approach through its free flow of ideas and learning from best practices. The preparatory process should, therefore culminate in an event capable of merging the views and commitments from all countries into one goal, one commitment and one global action programme.
The Global Strategy for Shelter to the year 2000 encourages the application of enabling policies whereby national governments are encouraged to establish the appropriate legislative, institutional and financial frameworks that will enable the formal and informal construction sectors, non-governmental organizations, communities and individuals to contribute most effectively towards housing construction. However, such policies cannot be implemented unless adequate inputs required by the construction sector are in place.
The existence of a favourable environment policy coupled with technological growth are crucial factors for economically, environmentally and socially sustainable housing development. Habitat II, while encouraging policy makers and professionals, will call on them and the international community to draw up a Global Plan of Action and make commitments to provide resources and embark on new partnerships with other actors to strengthen their capacities in the construction sector.
The second theme of Habitat II Adequate Shelter for All is, in fact, the ultimate objective of the Global Strategy for Shelter. The Habitat II preparatory process and the Conference itself will conduct a mid-term review of the implementation of the Global Strategy for Shelter, and will make recommendations for attaining this objective by the targeted date.
Finally, Habitat II will address issues related to the promotion of sustainable construction industry activities - an area of expressed concern in Agenda 21 of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). The construction industry, while contributing considerably in overall socio-economic development, fixed capital formation and employment generation in every country, is one of the largest exploiters of natural resources, an irreversible transformer of the natural environment and a significant polluter of the atmosphere. The need therefore to introduce more sustainable construction practices with due attention to preserving natural resources and the eco-system in general is attracting great attention by policy makers and professionals in the overall context of sustainable human settlements development particularly in urban areas.
III. A FRAMEWORK FOR COUNTRY-LEVEL PREPARATION AND REPORTING ON THE CONSTRUCTION SECTOR
The following parts of this paper provide a brief overview of the prevailing key problems and short-comings militating against the development of the construction sector. They also propose a set of measures which could contribute to the improvement of the performance of the sector in most countries of the African region. The proposed measures outlined in sections IV and V are expected to serve as guiding principles for country-level preparations and reporting for Habitat II in the construction sector. However, these are by no means exhaustive and may not be common to all countries. They could therefore be used as a basis for objectively assessing, the current status of the construction sector in every country, and could help in identifying: (i) key areas of concern for consideration; and (ii) policies and actions required to alleviate the shortcomings.
Problems of, and opportunities for, the development of the indigenous construction industry
A summary statement
The construction industry makes a significant contribution to the socio-economic development process in most countries. The sector also employs, a large proportion of the labour force and in that way offers income-earning opportunities. The construction industry is an important contributor to capital formation and the high rate of activities in the sector are major indicators of a healthy economy. Indirectly, the sector stimulates other industrial sectors through economic multiplier effects and makes a significant contribution in terms of conserving, and sometimes generating, foreign exchange.
Nevertheless, there are a number of problems which tend to confront the sector and make efforts at developing an indigenous construction industry very difficult and complex. The main one is that the basic inputs required for the supply of construction outputs are often not adequately developed, even though abundant indigenous resources may exist. Instead, there tends to be a high dependence on imported resources, often paid for with scarce foreign exchange.
The underlying problems of the construction sector can be classified into the following main groups:
(a) The sector is not viewed and planned in a holistic manner, but rather, operates with fragmented, unrelated and often conflicting components. The result is wastage of resources, duplication, inefficiency and inability to plan for total development.
(b) There are large amounts of deficiencies in the specific inputs required for the supply of construction outputs. For example, key building materials are scarce and expensive; access to financial resources are limited; equipment and tools are not easily available; skilled labour is still scarce.
(c) The demand characteristics of the sector are unfavourable. Governments are usually the main clients of the majority of construction industry outputs. In the private sector, however, the bulk of the population is low-income or has no income and is not an effective market for the construction of housing and infrastructure.
(d) Poor technological capacity of the industry, particularly of its small-scale sector has directly contributed to low productivity of the construction sector. Lack of access by small entrepreneurs to information on new and appropriate technologies; a general dearth of technology suppliers; difficulties in technology transfer mechanisms; and inadequate industrial extension support services to the sector are major problems affecting the development of the construction sector.
However, despite the numerous deficiencies in the sector, opportunities for strengthening the sector exist in the following areas:
(a) Improvement in building materials supply and reduction of their cost;
(b) Human resources development;
(c) Use of appropriate and innovative technologies;
(d) Promotion of public/private partnership;
(e) Development of the small-scale construction sector;
(f) Attracting private sector investment;
(g) Promoting the use of renewable energy sources;
(h) Strengthening research efforts and translating research findings into industrial production;
(i) Promoting flow of information;
(j) Promoting adoption of standards and specifications for low-cost building materials production;
(k) Modifying (if required) building regulations and bye-laws;
(l) Facilitating easy access to tools and equipment;
(m) Creating favourable financing mechanisms;
(n) Promoting transfer and adaptation of technology and regional co-operation.
IV. BASIC RESOURCE INPUTS REQUIRED BY THE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY
A. Low-cost building materials
Constraints affecting the wide-scale production and use of low-cost building materials are many and they may differ from country to country. The basic constraints facing the sector may be broadly categorised as those related to: (a) low productivity; (b) lack of appropriate technologies and know-how; (c) energy related issues; and (d) lack of standards and specifications.
Measures for improvement
(a) Production improvement
Low productivity in the building materials sector has been a major obstacle to improving the performance of housing sector in most African countries. Measures to improve the productivity should give consideration to the following:
(i) Improving and regularizing the supply of raw materials; arranging and assisting small enterprises to conduct feasibility studies on raw material deposits, scale of production, quality control procedures and in marketing and distribution;
(ii) Promoting and assisting small-scale building materials sector to improve their productivity by modernization and upgradating processes;
(iii) Providing information on new and appropriate technologies to the small-scale construction sector and facilitating the transfer and adaptation of technologies;
(iv) Arranging for sufficient supplies of tools and equipment and ensuring the availability of spare parts at all times;
(v) Ensuring consistent supplies of energy and other utilities required for the plants.
(b) Appropriate and innovative technologies and know-how
One of the important reasons for the shortage and high cost of basic building materials in most African countries is the lack of technological know-how for producing alternatives to substitute costly materials such as cement, fired clay bricks. asbestos or steel corrugated roofing sheets, etc. Efforts to adopt new technologies and materials should focus on:
(i) Making arrangements to popularize new technologies and materials by adopting standards and specifications for the production and use of these materials;
(ii) Making efforts to execute pilot housing projects using innovative materials such as: stabilized soil blocks, fibre concrete roofing tiles and alternative cementitious materials to demonstrate their advantages viz-a-viz the conventional and relatively expensive materials;
(iii) Fostering research and development activities on new materials and technologies and, more importantly, facilitating translation of research results into actual field production;
(iv) Creating a favourable policy and regulatory environment for the use of innovative materials by modifying and/or reformulating building regulations to incorporate permission of the use of these materials in low-cost housing construction;
(v) Establishing a mechanism for the exchange of information on technological requirements viz-a-viz available technologies;
(vi) Fostering regional, inter-regional and international co-operation for the transfer of technology and encouraging joint ventures and licensing arrangements;
(vii) Strengthening community-based organizations and establishing new building centres for the provision of advisory and extension services to small-scale entrepreneurs.
Many basic building materials such as cement, bricks, lime, etc. have high energy content. In general, about 80 to 90 per cent of the energy used in housing construction is for the production and transportation of building materials, and only 10 to 20 per cent of energy-use takes place in the on-site construction process. Rising energy costs, therefore, is one of the principal factors causing building material prices to rise. Measures to improve energy efficiency should include:
(i) Creation of initiatives for technical innovation directed towards greater energy-efficiency and fuel substitution;
(ii) Adoption of energy-efficient technologies and materials and enforcing policies and regulations for energy saving;
(iii) Encouraging the use of alternative fuels such as agricultural wastes and low-grade oils;
(iv) Careful study of all types of kiln processes to monitor energy consumption and identify opportunities to improve energy efficiency;
(v) Energy auditing of all production processes to identify end-use patterns;
(vi) Use of solar energy or waste kiln-heat in low-temperature operations.
(d) Standards and specifications
Traditional building materials, such as soil, lime and timber have long been in use in most African countries without any standards or specifications regarding their production or use in construction. If standards, specifications and testing procedures are adopted on a wide scale, they are likely to improve the acceptability of such materials and thereby reduce dependency on conventional and import-based substitutes. When formulating a policy for the adoption of standards and specifications, national governments need to include to the following actions:
(i) Supporting studies and research on standards and specifications for an identified range of indigenous building materials;
(ii) Providing resources, especially from bilateral and international sources, for the supply of testing equipment and technical information;
(iii) Establishing mechanisms for the dissemination and enforcement of adopted standards to local builders, contractors and building materials producers;
(iv) Setting up extension services and demonstration projects as a basis for the application of standards and specifications in the traditional and small-scale construction sectors;
(v) Introducing legislative support for consumer rights in the use of indigenous building materials.
B. Human resources
Labour constitutes the second largest component of resources required by the construction industry after building materials. The ordinary workforce is abundant in most African countries, but skilled and professional labour in the construction sector is scarce. One of the causes of the lack of skilled labour in the sector is the inadequate scale and scope of the training provided to them. Existing conventional training institutions have neither adequate capacity to train the required number of unskilled workers, nor are their training programmes comprehensive enough for the range of activities that take place in the construction industry.
Measures for improvement
(a) Diversifying and promoting the scope of training
The educational background of the bulk of the labour force engaged in the construction sector are such that conventional educational methods, involving school attendance, lectures etc. are not often effective. In order for training to have an impact on the development of the indigenous construction sector, consideration should be given to the following:
(i) Assessing the type of participants who require training - for example, contractors, building materials producers, managerial staff, etc. and identifying those existing training institutions that have the potential to undertake new methods of training;
(ii) Preparing comprehensive training activities based on the priority requirements of the construction sector;
(iii) Promoting on-the-job training programmes, using demonstration projects and field extension trainers;
(iv) Identifying appropriate target groups, such as master craftsmen, to undertake practical training and spread acquired techniques through apprenticeship systems and using extension service approach;
(v) Promoting support for teaching aids, such as audio-visual kits and illustrated manuals, data and fact sheets and mobilizing resources for practical training workshops and seminars for both private and public sectors.
(b) Strengthening existing training institutions
The existing training institutions often have considerable limitations mainly because of shortages of resources and skilled trainers. National governments could focus on the following:
(i) Assessing existing facilities which are accessible to training institutions and identifying requirements for national and international assistance;
(ii) Providing support in terms of material inputs from national and international resources, including equipment, information and skilled trainers;
(iii) Training of trainers on a continuous basis to acquaint them with the latest developments in construction techniques and management;
(iv) Reviewing curricula of training programmes in order to make them consistent with the requirements of the indigenous construction sector.
(c) Improving the productivity of the workforce and safety measures
In some countries, the low level of productivity of the construction labour force has led to a preference for imported manpower, machinery and equipment. An increase in productivity would help to reduce dependence on imports and thereby lead to a favourable impact on the final cost of construction. Attention should be focused on the following:
(i) Providing financial bonuses and other benefits to public-sector construction workers based on productivity;
(ii) Disseminating information to construction workers on safety rules and safety procedures, especially on high-risk construction projects;
(iii) Providing incentives to construction firms which implement measures to protect workers against on-site hazards and risks and enforcing safety regulations;
(iv) Reducing barriers to the purchase of safety equipment and other basic tools which have an impact on productivity of construction manpower.
(e) Improving managerial capabilities of small contractors
Contractors are vital for the execution of projects and play a central role as co-ordinator of construction activities and mobilizer of resources for a desired construction output. Indigenous contractors in most developing countries experience difficulties in management and execution of construction projects. Approaches to minimize deficiencies of the contractors should include the following:
(i) Strengthening training agencies and identifying the level of managerial training required by various classes of contractors, and preparing manuals to guide the training programmes;
(ii) Using government-sponsored projects as a basis for demonstrating practical managerial procedures;
C. Plant, equipment and tools
Plant, equipment and tools constitute a smaller proportion of the total cost of a construction output than either building materials or labour. Despite the fact that the nature of certain construction activities tends to make the contributions of plant, equipment and tools indispensable to the construction industry, one problem related to the use of these components in most African countries, is that they are often imported with scarce foreign exchange. The result is often shortages in supply, and some of the items imported turn out to be inappropriate to the indigenous construction sector.
Measures for improvement
(a) Establishing a comprehensive programme for equipment and machinery pools
A machinery-pool programme is capable of reducing foreign exchange spending on the importation of machinery and equipment. Owing to the cyclical nature of the construction activity and the frequent interruptions experienced in most countries, machinery-pools can help minimize the problem of idle capacity thereby achieving rationalization and efficiency in total utilization of the items. National governments will benefit from a policy based on this concept, and, in particular, attention should be given to the following:
(i) Ensuring equitable distribution of machinery and equipment through established pools to conform with the geographical distribution of construction activity;
(ii) Identifying priority items to be included in the machinery pool, giving coverage to a wide range of activities;
(iii) Motivating and encouraging the establishment of private-sector machinery pools by providing, incentives in the form of spare parts and information dissemination;
(b) Promoting programmes for repair, maintenance and spare parts supply
A comprehensive support mechanism using domestic skilled labour for the repair and maintenance of imported and domestic machinery and equipment can help minimize wastage and inefficiency of those items and thus contribute to substantial savings in foreign exchange. Ensuring the availability of spare parts for machinery and equipment, preferably through domestic production, can achieve similar benefits. National governments could explore a policy emphasizing the following:
(i) Promoting demonstration projects, using ongoing construction programmes, to train technicians in the repair and maintenance of machinery and equipment;
(ii) Mobilizing international assistance for training the domestic workforce in operation, maintenance and repair and encouraging the establishment of domestic workshops for the production of basic spare parts;
(iii) Assessing requirements of basic spare parts and preparing programmes of importation or production to satisfy demand.
(c) Local capacity-building in the manufacture of equipment and tools
The traditional and modern metal factories and workshops in most African countries can produce basic tools for the construction sector. Even though that has only been done on a small scale and has not had a great impact, the potential can be developed to the extent that considerable savings could be gained through reduction in imports and generation of employment and incomes. Governments should give due regard to the following:
(i) Providing support to equipment and tool manufacturers, through training of skilled labour, information dissemination, guarantee of imported critical inputs and other fiscal incentives;
(ii) Formulating standards and specifications to regulate the quality of production and providing support for research activities on cost reduction and improved production techniques;
(iii) Promoting the export of locally-produced machinery and tools;
(d) Rationalizing capacity of existing plants
In most African countries, large-scale plants such as cement, brick, lime, and tile manufacturing plants operate at capacities which are inefficient. National governments can achieve several benefits if attention is given to rationalizing the capacities of existing plants rather than installing new plants. Some of the benefits of such an approach include a reduction in cost of infrastructural services, economies in the use of scarce energy resources, of scarce skilled labour and reductions in the cost of management and general operations. National governments need to give consideration to a policy of that nature, with the following in mind:
(i) Making an assessment of capacity utilization of existing large-scale plants with a view to establishing the feasibility of increasing the capacity of operation;
(ii) Establishing a system for continuous evaluation and monitoring of heavy plant and machinery usage;
(iii) Providing preferential support for projects involving rationalization of capacities of existing plants, through supply of spare parts, dissemination of information and training of labour to repair, maintain and operate plants.
D. Financing the construction sector
The construction industry is dependent on finance for acquiring various inputs required. Owing to the high-risk nature of major construction projects, new investors require special financial arrangements as incentives for their contribution to the sector. Clients of the construction industry both in public and in private sectors, also require large sums of funding to meet their demand for construction activities. In most African countries, existing financial institutions do not fulfil the requirements for financial resources which are required for critical inputs such as machinery, building materials and working capital. Similarly, funds from government sources for development projects are often limited and are shared by several other economy sectors.
Measures for improvement
(a) Strengthening the capabilities of national financial institutions
Existing financial institutions can contribute to the development of the construction sector by making their terms for loans favourable to a wide range of participants in the sector. By providing support for investments in the indigenous construction sector, existing financial institutions are likely to benefit from the contributions which the sector makes to the national economy - in particular, the ability to stimulate growth in other sectors of the economy through multiplier effects. Attention should be focused on policies of that nature giving consideration to issues such as:
(i) Providing governmental financial contributions in the form of special funds to supplement the seed capital of banks;
(ii) Strengthening legislative instruments in order to offset risks of default and minimizing the demand for guarantees.
(iii) Providing incentives to commercial banks in order to enable them to invest directly in the construction sector;
(b) Promoting non-conventional financing mechanisms
Non-conventional methods of generating funds, such as community-based donations and individual contributions are capable of supporting viable construction projects, if organized in a comprehensive manner. This is one method of reducing the heavy burden of financing construction projects by governments. This approach to generating funds seems appropriate among rural and urban informal-sectors. The following guidelines need to be considered when formulating a policy in that direction:
(i) Providing institutional support to coordinate programmes related to non-conventional financing mechanisms and promoting non-conventional financial systems on a wide scale;
(ii) Identifying and executing projects which are capable of attracting maximum participation;
(iii) Exploring non-conventional systems based on experiences in other countries-best practices.
(c) Public/private partnership for funding public construction projects
Financial resources are, sometimes, more readily available in the private sector than in the public sector. Yet, financing public construction projects are borne by public sources of finance. However, private-sector investment can be attracted, with suitable interest payments. An example of this is the collection of tolls on highway projects as a means of paying back the investment. When formulating such a policy, national governments should consider the following guidelines:
(i) Identifying projects for private-sector participation with guarantees of early periods of repayment, insurance against risks and favourable interest rates;
(ii) Initiating feasibility studies on investment in public construction projects by both foreign and domestic private investors;
(iii) Providing fiscal incentives, such as tax subsidies to investors.
(d) Promoting international ventures
The setting up of financial institutions geared to the needs of the construction industry, on a bilateral or multilateral basis, can help to reduce the constraints in the construction process caused by the shortage of foreign exchange to purchase critical inputs. In most African countries, construction projects that require heavy foreign exchange components such as dams and irrigation projects, can be implemented through that kind of collaboration. If institutions are organized as commercial ventures, there is the possibility that foreign exchange earnings can be generated through interest and re-investments. National governments should explore the benefits of such an arrangement by:
(i) Initiating studies on the feasibility of such an approach and identifying other participating governments for negotiations;
(ii) Mobilizing international assistance through investments as share-holders and direct contributions of financial aid, manpower assistance, training of personnel, information flow and evaluation of performance;
(iii)Identifying priority construction projects and promoting investment programmes as a means of generating profit and re-investing profits.
V. SUBSIDIARY INPUTS TO SUPPORT THE CONSTRUCTION SECTOR
A. Appropriate regulatory mechanisms
Regulatory procedures applied in most African countries are not comprehensive and, often, ignore activities that are vital to the satisfactory performance of the construction sector. A fundamental problem is that most regulations inherited from other countries are inappropriate or ineffective. Although there has been concern for revising or reformulating codes and regulations, the limited resources available to most developing countries, notably skilled professionals and appropriate methodologies have hampered attempts to improve the situation.
Measures for improvement
(a) Reformulation of existing codes and regulations
In most developing countries, building codes and regulations can be adapted to the indigenous construction sector through reformulation or revisions. The following actions may be of assistance:
(i) Streamlining legislative procedures required for the reformulation or revision of building codes and regulations, in order to reduce bureaucratic constraints and improve the capabilities of responsible agencies;
(ii) Providing institutional arrangements to enforce new codes and regulations, monitoring the performance of codes and devising guidelines for periodic revisions to ensure their suitability.
(b) Establishing or strengthening institutions responsible for regulatory procedures
Building codes and regulations can fulfil their objectives if adequate institutional arrangements are made. Appropriate construction techniques can be promoted through demonstration programmes and the dissemination of information on safety, comfort and durability of indigenous construction outputs. Measures to establish new institutions or to strengthen existing ones should be based on the following guidelines:
(i) Assessing areas which require governmental intervention in relation to the capacities of existing regulatory institutions and the need for establishing new ones;
(ii) Providing training opportunities for new staff and improving the skills of existing ones;
(iii) Strengthening the legislative backing of the regulatory institutions in order to cover a comprehensive range of activities and application of enforcement procedures.
(c) Adopting appropriate contracting, tendering and registration procedures
The current constraints for tendering, awarding contracts and registering contractors often, hamper development of the indigenous construction sector in many countries. Appropriate procedures can be effective for development of the capabilities of indigenous contractors, if emphasis could be placed on issues such as:
(i) Providing support for the revision of existing contracts and tendering procedures in order to reduce dependency on inappropriate resource inputs;
(ii) Supporting measures to revise inappropriate procedures for the registration of small contractors, in order to promote local capacities;
(iii) Establishing a mechanism for evaluating the performance of small contractors, based on participation by associations of private-sector contractors.
B. Information dissemination
One of the main reasons for underdevelopment of the construction sector in most African countries is that there is hardly any formal mechanism for collecting, processing and disseminating information. The scale of information dissemination, if it has to have any meaningful impact, must cover a wide range of issues such as innovations in the building materials sector, the transfer of technology, human resource development and research activities. However, it is usually beyond the capability of most governments to mobilize the resources required for such a scale of information dissemination, specially with regard to the inputs that are required in the construction sector.
Measures for improvement
(a) Strengthening national capabilities for collecting and disseminating information
The stock of useful experiences, especially those concerning domestic innovations in the construction industry, can contribute to the development of the sector if measures are taken to disseminate the information effectively. One advantage of using domestic sources of information is that it is likely to be widely acceptable and may require less effort to process than information from foreign sources. The following guidelines will be helpful in formulating a policy for the purpose:
(i) Identifying a focal agency or institution to monitor national efforts in collecting and disseminating relevant information from field projects as well as from academic and research institutions;
(ii) Mobilizing resources for training local staff in skills related to collection and dissemination of information;
(iii) Providing financial and institutional support for collecting, processing and disseminating information.
(b) Promoting flow of information among countries
Efforts made by African countries in the field of information dissemination for the development of the indigenous construction sector can provide a basis for the establishment of networks for the exchange of information between countries. Information materials and dissemination techniques are likely to be easily adaptable from one developing country to another. The following actions can help in increasing the intercountry flow of information.
(i) Establishing information centres or networks on the construction industry;
(ii) Designating national focal agencies for maintaining contacts with the networks as well as storing, processing and distributing information material;
(iii) Setting up mechanisms for supplying information from local sources in exchange for information from external sources;
(iv) Carrying out projects on information dissemination and strengthening bilateral or multilateral cooperation.
(c) Information flow from developed countries and international agencies
The construction industry in African countries is still dependent on resource inputs from developed countries, especially those inputs for which indigenous substitutes have not yet been developed. Several international agencies have been making efforts to develop the indigenous construction sector in developing countries, but those efforts can have the desired impact only if the findings are properly disseminated within the developing countries. Actions needed include:
(i) Establishing an institutional arrangement for the collection, review and distribution of information from developed countries and international agencies;
(ii) Encouraging participation of the private construction sector in an information network with international agencies;
(iii) Assessing the need for specific information and mobilizing assistance from international sources;
(iv) Organizing and participating in international meetings, conferences and exhibitions.
(d) Audio-visual and other modern equipment for information dissemination
Those involved in construction activities, such as ordinary builders suppliers, small contractors and clients often do not possess the educational background required for the easy understanding of a subject as complex and technical as the construction industry. The use of audio-visual techniques and modern information aids can help to increase their understanding. Policies on this subject should give attention to the following:
(i) Assessing needs for basic audio-visual and related equipment and identifying sources for external assistance;
(ii) Establishing a system to monitor the use, distribution and maintenance of such equipment;
(iii) Mobilizing resources, including domestic funding and international cooperation for the supply of such equipment and machinery.
C. Research and demonstration
In several African countries, research efforts have not led to the wide-scale adoption of findings, so that they have had little impact on the development of the indigenous construction sector. Research activities have tended to focus on outputs which are of academic interest rather than on practical results. In addition, research programmes usually fail to cover the comprehensive range of activities which characterize the construction sector. One of the reasons for those problems is that the resources available for research activities are in adequate.
Measures for improvement
(a) Adoption of research findings
Research efforts can be made effective if findings of research projects are adopted on a large scale. Efforts to promote the adoption of research findings can be done, for example, through involvement of the public and private sectors. Policy formulation in this field should focus on the following:
(i) Strengthening capacities of research institutions to enable them expand field and extension services programmes;
(ii) Providing fiscal incentives to entrepreneurs in the private sector who undertake production ventures based on research findings;
(iii) Mobilizing resources to enable research institutes to increase the scale of their demonstration projects;
(iv) Encouraging joint ventures between research institutes and the private sector in the commercial production of innovative building materials which are based on research findings;
(b) Strengthening of or establishing new research institutions
The capabilities of some African countries in research activities are such that very little impact is made on the development of the construction sector. Policies need to be implemented to strengthen or establish more effective research units so as to derive the benefits of the contributions which can be made by research efforts in the development of the construction sector. The following will be useful in formulating a policy in that field:
(i) Providing adequate support for supply of basic research equipment, tools and technical literature;
(ii) Mobilizing resources including international assistance, for training the indigenous skilled and professional staff and arranging fellowships as well as joint research activities;
(iii) Promoting bilateral and international cooperation in support of research activities.
(c) Mobilizing private sector resources for research activities
Financial contributions from the private sector, if effectively mobilized, can help reduce the problems of research activities. The involvement of the private sector in research activities can also facilitate the process of wide-scale adoption of research findings. National governments will benefit from such a policy, giving due attention to the following:
(i) Enforcing levies and other mandatory contributions based on profit margins of private-sector establishments;
(ii) Providing incentives, such as tax concessions and access to loans, for establishments that support or directly undertake research activities;
(iii) Encouraging the integration of research programmes or research units in relevant private-sector agencies in the construction industry;
(d) Establishing a network of international cooperation
International cooperation is important in enhancing the research activities in most developing countries. Unfortunately, some of the research activities being undertaken in developing countries lead to duplication of efforts and wastage of scarce resources. Moreover, advantage is not taken of the complementary nature of some activities. A policy on international cooperation with regard to research activities will involve:
(i) Identifying cooperating agencies and establishing a mechanism for exchange of relevant information on research findings;
(ii) Initiating projects to be executed through inter-agency or multi-agency cooperation;
(iii) Streamlining national research programmes in harmony with cooperating agencies;
(iv) Promoting exchange of staff to participate in relevant projects of mutual benefit.
Semi-machine fed brick-making for improved output