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Verónica Rojas Urquiza

BAMBOO AS AN ALTERNATIVE CONSTRUCTION MATERIAL FOR POVERTY ALLEVIATION IN ECUADOR

Verónica Rojas Urquiza

BAMBOO AS AN ALTERNATIVE CONSTRUCTION MATERIAL FOR POVERTY ALLEVIATION IN ECUADOR

Countries in South America face important challenges associated with growing population, low incomes, poverty, health, education and climate change, among others. However, one of the biggest challenges is the demand for shelter. Ecuador, with a population of 14,500,000 people, where 65% of the population live in poverty and where the housing deficit accounts for at least 900.000 houses is the context of this study. The main aim of this research is to assess the viability and potential of bamboo as an alternative construction material to alleviate poverty in the low-cost house sector in Ecuador. The study is focused on people living under the poverty and extreme poverty line, in the Coastal Region, where people subsist on less than 40USD and 70USD per month, respectively. These citizens are not eligible for credit in the current system and having a house is a dream that just a few can afford. Therefore, the need to find a solution to counteract this problem is a priority.

Bamboo, considered as the “poor man’s timber” for some and as the “vegetal steel” for others, could be an alternative construction material to alleviate poverty, mainly in the Coastal Region. Considered as a giant grass, it has been used since ancient times by different Asian cultures in countless applications, proving to be noble and useful. Furthermore, in South America, countries like Colombia and Ecuador have used it as a construction material for hundreds of years. There are more than 1200 species worldwide; Ecuador has at least 260 of them. This study is focused on the species Guadua Angustifolia Kunt, colloquially known as “cana guadua”, or simply “guadua”. This type of bamboo is being used in the construction sector from large structures to small houses. However, for its economical advantages the main application has been in social housing for low-income people. Besides, its physical-mechanical, ecological and sustainable characteristics have led it to become a  material of interest around the globe. 

This study assesses the use of guadua in the social housing sector by analyzing different case studies in Ecuador, Colombia and Bangladesh. Furthermore, several semi-structured interviews will be conducted with representatives of the sector in order to identify and evaluate the main drivers and constrains of its use.  In addition, an economic analysis of a caña guadua house has been taken into consideration.

Initial findings suggest that people living with less than 70 USD have access only to a caña house. Due to climatic conditions these houses are suitable only in the Coastal Region where they could last from 3 to 7 years. Moreover, social and cultural aspects are critical in this study. There are still uncertainties if the use of bamboo alleviates poverty or not since people will have to buy a new house in a short period. For this reason, a life cycle analysis of a caña house is important in order to confirm this hypothesis.