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close this bookBASIN - News No. 10 July 1995: Reconstruction and Resettlement (Building Advisory Service and Information Network, 1995)
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View the documentFocus: Reconstruction and Resettlement: An opportunity for long-term development
View the documentResettling and reintegrating refugees in Eritrea
View the documentCaritas resettlement project, Kambodian, Tadjikistan
View the documentDissemination of adobe technology in a housing reconstruction programme in Peru
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Caritas resettlement project, Kambodian, Tadjikistan


Short-term reconstruction can be viewed as a start of long-term sustainable development.


After the collapse of the Soviet Union, a civil war erupted in Tadjikistan in 1992. More than 20,000 died, and over half a million people had to leave their homes and flee. Around 60,000 fled to Afghanistan, about 40,000 to Turkmenistan and tens of thousands more to other areas of the CIS such as Kirgistan or Moscow. Most of their homes were plundered. Roofing sheets and timbers, windows, doors, floor boards, and sanitary installations were destroyed or taken away.

The political changes in the former Soviet Union allowed social upgrading and trade opportunities to benefit people belonging to the Pamir and Gharmi population. But the politically powerful people in Tadjikistan disliked the ongoing redistribution of income-flows and managed with the help of Moscow to destroy these social changes.

Before the civil war, 42% of the population were occupied in the agricultural sector, 21% in industry and construction, 20% in the service sector and 17% in commerce and traffic. Even before the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Tadjikistan had been the poorest republic. Now the war has destroyed it almost completely. Most industrial enterprises have had to stop production due to lack of fuel, raw materials or orders.

Tadjikistan is extremely mountainous. About 90% of its surface area is situated more than 1000 m above sea level; 70% is high mountain area. The climate is continental, with very hot and dry summer seasons. Winters are mild, apart from the high mountain region. The population is mainly concentrated in the western region, occupying about 7% of the surface area. The country’s economic centre is Dushanbe, the capital.

Fact-Finding Mission

CARITAS Switzerland decided in 1993 to become active in Central Asia. It was felt that Tadjikistan, because of its poverty and post civil war situation, was in urgent need of humanitarian aid. In 1994 CARITAS was evaluating the situation and decided to become active in the resettlement of returning refugees.

SKAT, together with ECOTEC, was mandated for a fact-finding mission, aiming to produce micro-concrete roofing tiles (MCR tiles) in Kabodion, the southern part of Tadjikistan, to implement a long-term development programme with four major fields of concern:

- reconstruction of destroyed houses,
- provision of employment,
- reconciliation in terms of improved trading possibilities,
- manufacturing of locally made products.

Housing Construction Materials

Traditional housing in Tadjikistan uses clay or mud for wall construction. Timber is imported from Siberia for the roof substructure and door and window frames. Asbestos cement sheets are the main roofing material; these sheets were produced in Dushanbe. The asbestos fibres and other essential building materials were traded for locally grown cotton with other soviet republics. The production of asbestos cement sheets has now ceased completely in Tadjikistan, and, except for clay or mud, there are only very limited local materials available for construction.

As an initial effort to help reconstruction of the roofs for returning refugees, the UNHCR imported and distributed enough asbestos cement sheets and wood from Russia to cover 13,000 houses. Some refugees sold part of their roofing material assistance in order to get money to survive.

CARITAS therefore decided not to supply only roof construction materials, but to establish local roofing material production. The relaunch of clay tile production was not a valid option, because of the complete loss of know-how and the considerable requirement of wood.

MCR tiles

Since there is a local cement factory and good quality sand available, the MCR tile technology turned out to be the best alternative, with the following advantages:

- ecological solution
- no import of roofing material
- production technology
- possible at local level
- small scale enterprises
- development potential
- health aspects better than asbestos cement

The main reason for starting the CARITAS refugees resettlement project in Kabodion, Tadjikistan, was the technical feasibility of producing MCR tiles locally. Following the feasibility study, the CARITAS project was planned to be implemented in two phases:

Phase 1: Emergency phase
Phase 2: Sustainable income generation and job creation

Phase 1:
Emergency Phase

With the decision by CARITAS to implement the project in Tadjikistan, it aimed at a close co-operation with the UNCHR, mainly sharing the work in supplying the building materials needed for 17,000 selected houses. These 17,000 houses selected by the UNCHR were considered to be repairable out of the approximately 30,000 destroyed or damaged houses in the project area Kabodion. CARITAS planned to initiate a self-developing production process of MCR tiles for 1000 roofs per year.

CARITAS Switzerland, together with Diakonie Germany and Dtuch Inter Church Aid, formed a consortium for the implementation of this project. The governments of Switzerland and the Netherlands are also financing the project.

Most of the selected houses are being rebuilt in much the original way, using the remains of the clay or mud walls as the basis. The average house size varies from 6x8 metres to 6x10 metres, containing only two or three rooms on the ground floor; these are covered by an attic floor of mulberry wood and mud, which materials are collected locally.

CARITAS decided to involve the local people as practically as possible and selects them according to the UNCHR list of refugees. People eligible for roofing assistance must repair the remains of their house in exchange, following a checklist. The only improvement on the original design is a new way of supporting the roof, minimizing the timber needed to construct a good MCR tile roof. This new method requires more precision, and it has so far proved very difficult for local people to construct the roof on their own as planned by CARITAS. Therefore the families concerned have to be trained in adequate construction.

The current project position

The project is at the beginning of phase 1. The main concern during the emergency phase is producing and supplying sufficient materials for shelter. Since Tadjikistan has a centrally controlled economic and political system, allowing little popular participation, it is difficult to achieve instant mitigation by the development of incomes, skills, organizational capacities and so on.

However, it would be wrong just to implement foreign aid financed projects without a long-term strategy to create an infrastructure allowing the local people to develop their own economic and social guidelines. Short-term help is therefore useless, unless the environmental circumstances are carefully considered, enabling us to create realistic projects in line with the long-term startegy, meaning a sustainable income generation and job creation as phase 2. It is still too early to judge the effect MCR tile production will have on the local economy. At the peak of production, there will be 15 MCR tile production plants installed in three different workshops, with a capacity to produce 3000 MCR tiles (240 m2) per day.

There must be a clear separation between the producer (supply side) and the user (demand side) of the MCR tile. As in every free market, this is also a vital condition for a non-free market economy such as Tadjikistan, to establish sustainable entrepreneurs. It also provides a clear management tool for planning, implementing and supervising, and for indicating problems. As a result, the assessment of chances and risks is easier and more professional. These indicators are essential for the planning of the second phase, saving money which might be better invested in the emergency phase.

Phase 2: Sustainable Income Generation and Job Creation

Phase 2 will show whether there is an opportunity for MCR tile production in the public sector or in the slowly developing private sector. It is very important to establish MCR tile production and roof construction know-how at local level in Tadjikistan in order to keep local experiences gained within the country through the CARITAS project.

The kick-start effect of MCR tile production for the local market is expected in due course. Activities necessary for the establishment of new private enterprises are supported by the project on an individual basis if required. During phase 1, indicators for a potential demand for MCR tiles and hence new, non-project-dependent MCR entrepreneurs will be established and monitored. If there is a good potential in this respect, CARITAS will then start with phase 2; if not, the project will close after the emergency phase.

Difficulties Experienced

Some difficulties were experienced during the start-up of the CARITAS refugees project:

All equipment needed for the production of MCR tiles in the emergency phase was imported from abroad; the transport of foreign equipment to Tadjikistan is difficult and takes a long time.

Timber is imported from Siberia; this being the case, there is no long-term perspective to make private sector MCR technology sustainable. An alternative roof substructure must be found to improve roof construction.

Ecological changes in the Aral Sea affected the climate and had a negative impact on winter temperatures in the project area; the region is experiencing heavier snow falls and lower temperatures. It is likely that air entrainers must be added to the MCR tile mixture to prevent freezing and therefore damaging MCR tiles.

Cement supply is not secured because of energy shortages during the cold winter months; it is hoped this situation will improve during the summer.

The quality of local sand in Kabodion is good, but the correct sand-aggregate mixing needs more care than expected.

The South-South MCR technology exchange still requires a lot of supervision to ensure top quality MCR tiles and roof construction, as well as to organize production and quality control. The prevailing difficult political situation puts the CARITAS project directly into a potential war zone; this requires special care and safety measures for its staff, as well as very reliable communications; this makes it a very demanding job for the local CARITAS staff. However, no war activities were experienced in the project area which directly endangered the project staff.

Organizations Involved in the Project

Besides the financing organisations the following other organisations are involved in the CARITAS refugees resettlement project in Kabodion:

CARITAS Switzerland is the project implementing agency; it employs two foreign staff, a project manager and a logistics officer, stationed in Kabodion. The CARITAS project is supported by:

- ECOTEC, based in Switzerland, who made available Russian-speaking MCR technology experts from Nicaragua and Cuba and supplied the necessary MCR tile production equipment to the project,

- RAS/SKAT, based in Switzerland, and providing very close support to the CARITAS Switzerland project management in aspects of the project planning, strategy, quality control and monitoring and evaluation matters.

The employment of local staff for the project is ongoing. The project language is Russian, which is necessary but sometimes difficult because there are only few MCR technology experts as well as project management staff who can communicate in the local language.

South-South development experience exchange

Grupo Sofonias (ECOTEC), a member of the RAS network active in Latin America and especially in Cuba, has access to Russian speaking MCR technology experts. The group was contracted by CARITAS as part of a South-South MCR technology exchange, and is responsible for the introduction of the MCR technology, the set up of the MCR tile production workshops (supply side), the organization and the design of the MCR roof construction management (demand side) and the building up of local technology capacity in the project through training. Parts of the RAS MCR technology “Toolkit” series containing the MCR technology know-how were translated into Russian.

The South-South development approach is the first for MCR technology at this scale. It is an experiment, a first step to gain information and experience. The main focus is on education in the production of good quality MCR tiles and also on testing the limits of technology skills and know-how transfer in a South-South exchange. It is obvious that in an experiment of this size, foreign inputs are focused on monitoring and quality control.

MCR tile production shop

The role of RAS/SKAT

RAS/SKAT is monitoring the project in technical and management matters, especially with regard to quality control and management organization on the basis of long-term involvement. The global MCR experience of RAS through its world-wide network is important for quality assurance for the project in Tadjikistan. A first monitoring mission made very recently clearly underlines the importance of a professional agency like RAS/SKAT. The South-South working experience gained through the CARITAS project in Kabodion will be an important indicator for RAS for future similarly oriented and structured MCR projects.


To integrate the project at local level, it is planned to establish a local project advisory board. This board should ensure the smooth integration of the project into the given situation and is one tool for starting the reconciliation process between the different warring parties. The personal composition of the local project advisory board is important. “Winners” and “losers” should meet in representative proportion, and local politicians and businessmen should be involved, assuring solutions acceptable to all. The MCR tile production units should consist of approximately 60% non-refugee and 40% refugee workers. The same percentage would be ideal for the roof construction management.

The Development Context of the Project

One aim of the project is to support and improve the general economic situation of the country. The project is trying to develop a sustainable sector through the establishment of local building materials production. The potential of such a development is monitored during the first phase. No small enterprises exist so far, although resistance to the idea from the communist side is decreasing. Business initiatives are gradually emerging in trading, but there are no alternatives.

The local production of asbestos cement sheets stopped, as the fibres have to be imported from Russia. The UNCHR imported all the asbestos cement sheets needed. But the project would also like to emphasize ecology and health aspects, gradually replacing the asbestos cement sheets by MCR tiles.

Reconciliation and peace are important for the stabilization of the Tadjikistan economy. The main goal of the project is to support this process, which will hopefully succeed. Our strategy is to mix “winners” and “losers” in producing tiles. Paid by the project, they are jointly rebuilding the previous enemies’ houses.

Concluding Remarks

The CARITAS project in Tadjikistan is a pioneering project in many respects. It is the only foreign organization working for the reconciliation of Tadjikistan through the local production of MCR tiles and through South-South exchange. The strategy of CARITAS, to initiate a long-term project, aiming at establishing local employment through small-scale entrepreneurship promotion in the roofing material sector initiated by and through an emergency project, is exemplary.

jointly rebuild roof, very good quality

Experience from many projects confirms that it is wrong to see reconstruction and resettlement as short-term, isolated problems. They should instead be considered as important vehicles for long-term sustainable development of the region concerned. CARITAS Switzerland has integrated this experience into their refugees resettlement project in Kabodion, Tadjikistan, hoping that despite the prevailing political difficulties the project will succeed in its long-term development objective to enable a decent life for the local population after a civil war, without a need to beg for their future.

For the RAS/SKAT team, H. M