This housing reconstruction programme demonstrates how successful community development can result from rebuilding after a devastating earthquake. Appropriate earthquake resistant house designs have been developed and training is provided in construction and maintenance techniques, as well as business and community leadership skills. To date, over 7,460 houses have been completed with households providing the labour and secure title to their property has been established for those who did not previously have the correct documents. 1,400 small businesses have been established; many of them run by women. The local municipalities have been involved throughout and welcome the increasing citizen participation that has resulted from the programme. Environmental concerns of deforestation and pollution of water supplies have been addressed and the approaches used in this programme are now being transferred to areas experiencing similar problems.

Project Description

Aims and Objectives

To restore and improve the housing condition of those affected by the 2001 earthquakes through the strengthening of citizen participation and the organisation of those involved in development locally.

With a population of 6.5 million, El Salvador is the smallest and most densely populated country in Central America. Thirty-four per cent of the population live in the capital city of San Salvador. El Salvador has recently emerged from decades of civil war and is also prone to natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes. Urbanisation and globalisation are major factors in the changing social and economic conditions in the country. The earthquakes of 2001 left 10,000 dead and injured, 164,000 homes and 41,000 businesses destroyed and 105,000 damaged homes. The financial cost of the 2001 earthquake was estimated at US$334 million and in terms of housing provision the country has moved back two decades. The La Paz province was one of the worst affected with 59 per cent of the housing affected.


The programme covers 18 of the 22 districts in the La Paz province. The beneficiaries have been selected by the respective local authorities on the basis of detailed surveys and by following a set of mutually agreed criteria. Eighty per cent of the 224 communities assisted are located in rural areas. Fifty-five per cent of households are women headed, and the average income of the families involved is US$124 per month. Almost half of the employment is day labouring.

Community workers initially mobilise the beneficiaries and provide them with general support during the construction phase. About seven families at a time are organised into one construction team that will construct the houses on a self-help basis with the support of a skilled bricklayer. Over 1,800 houses have been built as steel structures suitable for dismantling. This is in view of the fact that land tenure is dubious for a considerable number of plots, and some of the earthquake victims lived in rental accommodation or co-operatives without land title. The standard house of 27 m2 consists of hollow block walls and micro-concrete tile roofing, and provides for one sitting room and two small bedrooms. To date, over 6,000 of these homes have been built on a mutual help basis. An estimated 3,377 houses are expected to be built in other provinces by the end of 2004. Further project components address repairs to the water supply systems (wells, water pipe-lines, and water tanks), the construction of latrines, the provision of small credits to women groups and the improvement of local administration.

The La Paz housing programme seeks to minimise the risks of damage from future disasters by careful selection of zones for construction and preparation of appropriate foundations, house design developed to ensure maximum possible resistance and technical supervision of the construction process. Future earthquakes are therefore less likely to have such a devastating effect.

An important element of the project is the involvement of local people and communities in the decision-making processes. In addition, the families carry out transportation of supplies, excavate foundations, prepare mortars and concrete and prepare formworks, as well as placing the roof. They keep records of their labour and care for their supplies and tools. Local people are also trained in construction techniques and maintenance, in the use and maintenance of the potable water systems that have been established (benefiting 1,650 families) as well as in community administration and organisation to enable people to take greater responsibility for the management of their local communities. A series of workshops have been held on the threats to the quality of life including pollution, deforestation, lack of urban planning, unemployment and plots of land cracked by earthquakes. Training has been also provided in community administration – financial controls, minute taking and preparing news bulletins.

The total cost of houses made of concrete block is US$ 2,384, and those made of dismountable metal panels cost US$1,343, including materials, qualified labour, and community labour contribution. The cost of the three-stage programme is US$14,500,000 of which 78 per cent is from a German donor organisation (KFW). Twenty per cent of the cost of the houses comes from the local community in terms of the labour that it has contributed to the construction of the houses and in the time given over to the training programmes. The local authorities also make a small financial contribution.

Funds are made available in especially vulnerable groups in order to help people start small businesses. Many people have joined together to form productive enterprises for the re-sale of micro-concrete tiles in the communities, the sale and purchase of meat, seafood, clothing and cooked foods. To date, over 1,4000 such enterprises have been established, many of them by women. Having secure tenure and a permanent home encourages the household to use the home as the basis for a micro-business to supplement the family income.

Why is it innovative?

  • Innovation in the physical and technical characteristics of the houses built (after experimentation with 10 different house types, to see which ones were most appropriate, i.e. easy to construct and maintain, low-cost, earthquake resistant).
  • Self-production of building materials.
  • Capacity building through the construction and leadership training programmes.
  • Acceptance of a collective certification letter as evidence of land tenancy.
  • Promotion of income generating activities.
  • Emphasis on finding cost-effective options.
  • Inclusion of capacity building and training as part of the reconstruction programme.
  • Inclusion in the reconstruction process of those families who were too poor to have any form of home before the earthquake.

What is the environmental impact?

There has been an increase in the quality and availability of water for local households. Water committees have been established to ensure the good use and maintenance of the system. Development of Hanker latrines that avoid the biological contamination of surface and ground water are an integral part of the project. Local materials are used for all constructions. Environmental concerns of deforestation are also being addressed.

Is it financially sustainable?

Eighty per cent of the cost is met by subsidy and 20 per cent of the contribution is from the beneficiaries (labour cost). The families being housed have lost all their possessions, and in many cases, their livelihood, in the earthquake. Funds are made available to especially vulnerable groups in order to help them start small businesses and to date (2004) over 1,400 such enterprises have been established.

What is the social impact?

Leadership training is provided to enable local communities to negotiate with the local authorities regarding future infrastructure provision and other community services and facilities. To date over 180 community leaders have been trained and these are now involved in other training projects in the local community. Training in business management skills is also provided. Legally established local organisations have been established to help create permanent mechanisms for interaction and negotiation, both within the community and between the community and other levels. The women in the community now have a much-enhanced role compared to previously.


Significant progress has been made at the local level in replacing the housing deficit that was created as a result of the earthquakes. To date, over 31 per cent of the housing deficit has been remedied.

Over 7,500 homes have been built on a mutual help basis. A sense of hope has been established where previously there was none. The security of living in a house that will not be destroyed by a future earthquake has led to a blossoming of a wide range of activities and involvement.


Originally started on a pilot basis the project has now spread to 18 of the 24 municipalities in the La Paz region of El Salvador.


NGO, local community, local government, international agency