In a nutshell

Location Colombia

Project timeline 

"Project is 100% completed "

The Challenge

More than 10 million Colombians live in housing at risk of collapse in an earthquake, a landslide or a flood, most of them in urban slums. Home improvement in such communities is constrained by factors including lack of capital, poor-quality building materials, inadequate construction practices and difficult-to-apply building codes.

National and local governments are aware of the resulting risks and vulnerabilities. The municipalities of Bogota and Medellin, for example, have allocated funds for retrofitting homes in neighbourhoods prioritised for this type of intervention. Despite considerable demand, far fewer retrofits have been completed than safety would require because the current approach to evaluation and design has proved to be expensive and difficult, and the paperwork and legal hurdles discourage homeowners and even public officials from proceeding. Meanwhile, the stock of vulnerable housing keeps growing – along with the risk of disaster.

The Approach

In 2014 the social enterprise Build Change developed an easy-to-use, code-compliant retrofit evaluation and implementation procedure in partnership with Colombia’s National Learning Service, Swisscontact and Bogota’s seismic engineering community. The procedure rests on two training curricula – targeted at engineers and construction workers, respectively – for evaluating one- to three-story masonry houses for seismic risk and designing and implementing structural upgrades if needed. The National Seismic Construction Commission approved the use of Build Change’s methodology in Colombia in May 2015.

Goals and Expected Impact

Supported by the Swiss Re Foundation, the first stage of the project introduced the methodology and served as a pilot, retrofitting 20 homes in Bogota with close supervision and mentoring from Build Change. Many thousands of other residents of disaster-vulnerable housing stand to benefit from the lessons learned and capacities built in the two cities targeted in the project, as do millions of other Colombians whose homes are currently at risk.


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Our partner

Build Change saves lives in earthquakes and windstorms by working with people in emerging nations to build homes and schools that will protect their families and children.