Hurricane-proof roofs

Sagua La Grande house With this suggestive title, the Inter Press Services news agency published an article in its web site that treats the use of Ecomaterials in the zone of Sagua, Cuba,  a project aimed to improve the level of life in a zone with recurring hurricanes

Thousand of families in Cuba and other countries in the Caribbean and Central America live in anxiety, whether for lack of resources or because of the fragility of the zones to resist hurricane winds. The inhabitants of the zone remember that, in 2001, Hurricane Michelle whipped through this area with winds up to 280 kilometers per hour, and that destroyed dozens of buildings. Nevertheless, 21 families already had MicroConcrete Roofing tiles installed, and they had no harm in the roofs.

The whole reflects the role of projects supports by Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC). An excerpt from the article is featured in this update.

DEVELOPMENT-CUBA: Hurricane-proof roofs

"I am lucky: I have a house, but until recently I lost my roof with each strong wind that passed”, said Felicia Lezcano, who lives a few blocks from the sea in Isabela de Sagua, a fishing village on the northern coast of the central province Villa Clara and almost 300 kilometers from Havana.

Thousands of families in Cuba and other countries of the Caribbean and Central America live in similar difficulties, whether because of lack of resources or the fragility of the zones to resist the hurricane winds. The inhabitants of Isabela remember when Hurricane Michelle whipped through this area in 2001 with winds up to 280 kilometers per hour that destroyed dozens of buildings.

Nevertheless, 21 families already had roofs with microconcrete roofing tiles, produced with sand, conventional cement and water. None of the tiles broke or moved. "At least in this sense I feel secure", declared Lezcano. In the entire country Michelle left around 176,000 damaged houses, 3,000 of which were totally destroyed and 2,000 that must be relocated to more secure areas.

Over time buildings with ecomaterials continue to demonstrate their resistance to hurricane winds. A survey carried out in Villa Clara after Hurricane David passed through in July 2004 confirmed that at the northern coast of the province none of the more than 200 roofs built with microconcrete roofing tiles had suffered damage. It is estimated that some 2,500 families in the province have benefited from this solution of rehabilitating their houses.

Experts from the Center for Investigation of Structures and Materials (CIDEM), at the Universidad Central de Las Villas, agree that all strategies of construction must consider reduction of vulnerability to disasters.

"To resist Michelle was a real test. The microconcrete roofing tiles and blocks fabricated with ecomaterials gained credibility", said the vice-director of this academic research center, Fernando Martirena.  Thereafter, the proposals of CIDEM that combine the fabrication of these alternative materials with the improvement of housing in regions of high risk with regard to natural disasters gained more strength in Villa Clara and, as well, extended to other provinces of the country.

Ecomaterials are obtained and produced with local resources and technologies, at considerable savings in production costs, at the same time respecting the environment. Thus, the name that alludes to their economical and ecological viability. Martirena and other academics consider that production of these materials is central to any program of reconstruction encompassing criteria of sustainability and thereby eliminating external dependency.

These technologies include the alternative cement denominated CP-40, made with recycled waste from the sugar industry and other residuals from the surroundings that are then mixed with conventional cement to produce wall blocks.

The savings are considerable. With a ton of cement in an ecomaterials workshop one can make 1,200 wall blocks, half as much more than what can be produced with the same amount in a conventional plant. As well, it used less electrical energy, since an ecomaterials plant consumes only 240-280 kilowatts per month, and rationalizes the use of transportation, as the workshop fundamentally produces for the immediate area in which it is located.

The key to this type of Project is decentralization, which contributes to local development, especially in remote areas; it creates new jobs, increases the income for the community and fosters participation, including decisión-makaing.

CIDEM began to work in Villa Clara alter Hurricane Lili in 1996. Afterwards, in Nicaragua and Honduras after the devastating Hurrican Mitch in 1998, it contributed to the organization of projects to relocate people living in the inundated areas to more secure areas. Similar experiences have occurred in 18 countries of Latin America and Africa, for which a large part of the production equipment for ecomaterials is exported from Cuba.

Published originally in

You are here: Home Past editions Edition #20, May 2006 Hurricane-proof roofs


Kathryn Pozak
Swiss and Canadian
Political Scientist and Journalist
English, Spanish, spoken German.
General concepts and synergies, backstopping, evaluations


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