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close this bookBASIN - News No. 13 - February 1997 : The Great Habitat Debate (BASIN-GTZ-SKAT, 1997, 31 p.)
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View the documentIstanbul: A summary of achievements
View the documentWhose Agenda?
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Whose Agenda?

By the end of the century half the world's population will be living in cities. Today one billion people are homeless or inadequately housed and living in poverty - the majority in cities. By 2010 that number will have doubled.

Throughout the world rising unemployment has driven people to the cities. In the 'South' migration to urban areas has reached critical proportions. From Nairobi to Manila towns and cities are surrounded by squatter camps and shanty town; some are larger than the cities themselves. Those living in the shanty towns have extremely limited access to regular work, and land or building materials.

The Habitat Agenda recognises that 'more people than ever are living in absolute poverty and without adequate shelter.' It proposes that the 'eradication of poverty is essential to human settlements development.'

However, the Agenda fails to come up with a realistic solution or practical measures to achieve either sustainable settlements or adequate shelter Rather, it endorses market forces and assumes the more global trade will produce a 'trickle down' effect which will eventually benefit all. However, the evidence of NGOs is that unregulated markets only increase the gap between rich and poor and inevitably fail to address people's right to shelter.

"The free market approach promoted in the Habitat Agenda is actually creating the crisis that the Conference has been called to remedy. It must be replaced by strategies that tackle poverty and manage the market for everyone and not just the few," says Nick Hall, a BASIN representative.

With decades of experience of working with marginalised people in the South, BASIN believes that development only works when people are put at the centre of the equation, and when governments act in response to their needs and demands.

"If the economic trap is to be broken governments have to change the way they view marginalised people. They must recognise their creativity and initiative and accept that, however poor, people are the solution, not just part of the problem. The key ingredients are policies and commitments that support popular initiative, local enterprise and vibrant neighbourhood scale economies," Mr. Hall argues.

BASIN's experience has proved that a people-centred approach can work. Matching local skills to appropriate technology creates jobs and supplies local demand, at lower costs and with less pollution.

At an international level BASIN advocates the following measures:

- Regulating international and national markets for the benefit of all stake holders, not just corporate stockholders.

- Prioritizing co-operation with international agencies with the expertise and resources to assist in research and development.

- Transferring responsibility from central governments to local initiatives.

At a local level BASIN advocates:

- Encouraging local and international exchange of skills to extend knowledge within the community and create jobs.

- Identifying needs and technologies appropriate to the region.

- Channelling information to communities and local entrepreneurs from NGOs, government and international agencies.

- Promoting the production of building materials from locally available resources by small scale manufactures.

- Utilising energy efficient and environmentally friendly methods for their production.

- Enhancing the skills of builders to improve the quality and safety for buildings.

- Calling for changes to building and planning policies and laws so that they meet the needs of the poor more effectively.

The following case studies illustrate how BASIN has worked in partnership with people throughout the developing world.

Case Study 1: Building with Earth

Cameroon and Mexico

Cities do not have to be built with concrete blocks. Modern variations on traditional earth building techniques can be used to create low cost easily maintained buildings. Compressed soil blocks, for example, are increasingly popular in many countries. Production costs are low and small scale enterprises can employ local people to supply a local need, using readily available building materials. The result is new housing schemes for both public and communal buildings.

BASIN has supplied technical assistance to projects throughout the world. In Cameroon, a programme for promoting local building materials has drawn on BASIN's technical advice. Several earth block factories have been established, mansions have been built throughout the country leading to growing demand. One builder who attended a BASIN building course three years ago now employs some 30 workers. His training gave him new skills and encouraged him to acquire equipment to improve the quality of his buildings.

Mexico is another country where this technology is finding a popular market and following BASIN's work hundreds of new earth block houses have been built in Zacatecas. By matching the practical experience of office design with BASIN's advice to manufacturers, production equipment was adapted to meet local needs. Thanks to their quality and reliability these earth blocks have now been given official approval for use in large scale public housing projects.

BASIN's work in Cameroon and Mexico illustrates the case for applying appropriate technologies to specific conditions. Skilled jobs are created, local economies prosper and people are housed.

Case Study 2: Low-cost quality roofing

Tilemaking in India

Good quality roofing at an affordable price is a critical problem for low cost housing. Micro-concrete roof (MCR) tiles are one of the few success stories. MCR Research and Development was focused in the early 1980s in East Africa.

Building on the lessons of trials in Kenya, BASIN's experience in India on micro-concrete roof tiles has been very positive. While economic conditions hindered progress in Kenya, the same technology has flourished in India, where the market is more flexible. And the governments's national self-sufficiency policies have also aided the introduction of this technology.

MCR tiles are made from sand, cement and water on small electrically powered vibrating tables. As they require little energy to produce the tiles are cheap to make. Investment costs are low, and local needs can be catered for more efficiently, reducing transportation costs. Several Indian agencies have concentrated on this, and BASIN has provided training and technical backup.

Decentralization is an Indian priority and to date 35 small scale tilemaking plants have been established in various parts of the country, creating many jobs.

The project demonstrates what can be achieved by agencies working together. BASIN has focused its partnership for technology transfer with Development Alternatives, a leading Indian NGO. They now run seminars and training sessions in technology and business methods, and technical publications have been translated into Hindi.

The Original North-South partnership has now developed into a fruitful South-South exchange as Development Alternatives has spread the message to other NGOs throughout South Asia.

Case Study 3: Affordable Housing

Brickmaking in Zimbabwe: Meeting Regulations, Creating Jobs

Zimbabwe's urban population shift began in 1980, when government restrictions on internal migration were abolished. Since 1979 the population of the capital, Harare, has trebled. By the end of the century it will be close to 2 million.

Severe overcrowding is commonplace, and up to 35% of the population live in flimsy backyard shacks with poor sanitation. Economic and urban development policies are perpetuating this situation. For example, Harare's building regulations demand high standards for materials, particularly bricks.

Over the last five years technicians and business advisers, assisted by BASIN, have worked with a Harare co-operative on the production of market standard bricks which meet the stringent building regulation but are also affordable. By combining technical support and modern business methods, the co-operative has improved the quality of bricks while increasing production and reducing costs.

For example, substantial saving were made by changing the firing from timber to boiler waste left over by local coal-fired power stations. BASIN consulted brickmakers in Europe who use coal and their advice was adopted for local use.

Case Study 4: Disaster relief in Peru

Long-term Solutions for an Earthquake Region

The Habitat Agenda recognises that 'The impact on people and human settlements of natural and human-made disasters is on the increase'. This is an area where one of BASIN's main partners has direct experience.

When an earthquake devastated the San Martin region in the eastern foothills of the Andes in 1990, it claimed hundreds of lives and destroyed homes and livelihoods in many towns and villages. International aid flowed in and many agencies got involved in rebuilding programmed. Their priority was to re-house people fast.

BASIN took an innovative approach, looking for ways to reduce long term vulnerability. Staff had been working in the region for a year and had built up good relationships with the local people. Neighbourhood committees were formed to discuss local priorities, including upgrading houses which had survived the earthquake. Together they devised reconstruction plans and building schedules.

Based on a traditional building techniques, improved quincha relies on a flexible bamboo frame and is earthquake resistant. Unlike original quincha, the frame is anchored in a concrete foundation and the walls are protected with a cement render.

When a second earthquake struck improved quincha stood the test. Since work began a further 4,000 quincha structures have been built.

Quincha technology is appropriate to specific geographical regions, the process involved in rebuilding Alto Mayo is applicable almost everywhere. Consultation in partnership with local people, combined with technical support and the means to acquire materials, results in sustainable housing and greater long-term security for communities.