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Over one billion people - a fifth of the world's population - are homeless or live in very poor housing. The number is rising rapidly: the United Nations believes it may reach two billion early in the next century. Adequate shelter is, therefore, one of the most urgent needs in world development.

During the past few years, traditional roofing materials have increasingly lost their importance: grass and thatch roofs have a short lifespan and the raw material is getting scarce; burnt clay tiles require much energy input in production and a heavy timber substructure for the house. The existing industrial alternatives as for example asbestos cement or galvanized iron are the most widespread of non-traditional roofing products but they require a high initial investment.

A Massai woman builder plastering her traditional Massai house in Kenya
(Shelter Forum - click on the picture)

One of the most effective ways of overcoming these problems is to use building materials and construction techniques that poor people can afford and manage themselves, drawing upon local resources and skills. This has the added benefit of creating employment among local manufacturers and builders.

New shelter policies are also needed - for instance, in helping poor people to obtain loans to buy land and build houses, in providing security of tenure, or in devising building codes that allow the use of alternative materials in construction.

Non-government organizations (NGOs) and community groups can play an important role in addressing such issues and stimulating change, especially with the state's retreat from this sector in many countries.

Massai women in Kajido putting the finishing touches to a new roof

Marisiet Saitoti is a member of one of the Massai women's groups that IT has been working with in Kajiado District in Kenya. Her home, which was in need of repair, is now a demonstration house for new building techniques developed at the Massai Rural Training Centre with IT's help.

Marisiet's priorities were to reduce the amount of time she was spending on keeping the roof waterproof and on collecting water, to cut down the amount of smoke from her cooking fire lingering in the house and to increase the light coming in. She agreed with her group who would work on the necessary improvements and which materials she would provide herself. Her house now has a ferro-cement roof with built-in gutters to collect rainwater and a ferro-cement water jar for keeping it. Improved windows and ventilation let in light and allow smoke to escape.

Click on the picture to access:

"Alternative Roofing Material - A Study in Ethiopia"

In Ethiopia, as in many other developing countries, there is a scarcity of roofing materials. In Addis Ababa, the focus of this study, 95% of the roofs are covered with galvanized corrugated iron sheets (CIS). The aim of the study was to investigate what types of roofing materials could be produced in Ethiopia as alternative to CIS. The new materials should be possible to produce using locally available raw materials, and the need of import should be minimized. Three alternative roofing materials were proposed:

1. Concrete roofing tiles. This material is widely used all over the world including many African countries. Roofs of concrete roofing tiles are known to have good durability. The material can be produced in small scale using simple but sturdy equipment.

2. Fibre and micro concrete roofing (FCR/MCR) A limited production of FCR tiles exist today. FCR/MCR are, however, relatively new materials on the market and their durability is not well documented.

3. Clay tiles. This material was produced previously in Ethiopia. The material has good durability and high aesthetic qualities. The main disadvantage is the high energy consumption in production.

Fibre Concret Roofing (FCR) Technology seems to be a viable alternative. FCR can be produced, either as sheets or tiles, in small decentralized plants. It requires little initial investment and little energy input in production. Generally the raw materials, cement, sand, fibres like sisal or coir, plastic sheets and water are available locally. Local availability of raw materials for FCR production also means foreign exchange savings on the import of asbestos-cement and corrugated iron sheets. But even if there is no local cement plant in a country, there is a foreign exchange saving since most of the product value is added locally. FCR production is very labour intensive; job creation is possible with little investment...

...Radio Bridge Overseas is going to tell you a success-story from Kenya.



"How to make a strong roof from fibre and concrete"
14'59" /

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