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Local Building Materials Critical To Affordable Housing

Stakeholders in the nation’s property sector have identified a link between cost of building materials and availability of homes across the country, reports Edward Nnachi .

With its population growth of over 160 million, Nigeria has many citizens who do not have adequate shelter. With a housing deficit put at approximately 17 million, the housing shortage has persisted over the years, despite efforts to provide millions of housing units across the country. In view of this, experts, government and stakeholders alike have identified a link between cost of building materials and availability of homes in the country. The Director-General, Nigerian Building and Road Research Institute (NBRRI), Engr. Danladi Matawal, at a recent housing workshop posited that housing gives man a sense of security, protection from adverse weather conditions, dangers, promotes well-being and self-esteem, which in turn makes him comfortable and proactive to achieve other needs.

Moreover, a nation progresses when its citizens are provided with affordable housing; they become more productive when they are adequately housed thus boosting the output and general development of the nation. Against this background, the importance of the construction industry in the socio-economic development of a nation cannot be over-emphasised. Nigeria is a highly populated and developing African country, with the growth trend estimated at 2.7 percent annually. Of this population, many are faced with acute housing problems, especially for the medium and low-income earners, who cannot afford to own their personal homes due to the high cost of building with conventional materials (cement aggregates, steel reinforcements, and so on).

The World Bank had in a report stated that N56.9 billion would be required to provide the stipulated number of houses, and the bulk of this money would go into the purchase of conventional building materials and building techniques. In a paper, he delivered at housing workshop recently, organised by the Association of Housing Corporations of Nigeria (AHCN), Engr. Matawal had noted that most houses in Nigeria were made from conventional building materials, which are usually imported and expensive but not necessarily superior in quality to the locally sourced materials.

According to him, despite housing policies in Nigeria in recent years, housing still remains too expensive for the poor to acquire or else the acquisition processes are very tedious, and some cases they are eventually hijacked by the rich. Housing shortage spreads through the rural and urban communities of all African countries, and the case is more critical in urban areas, owing to rural-urban drift. Low-income earners constitute a large percentage of the Nigerian population comprising about 57 percent and this lot is most affected by the poor housing situation that currently affects the nation. Most people dwell in poorly built rural homes and those in urban areas, dwell in urban slums that are usually overcrowded and exposed to unhealthy sanitary conditions     Adequately housing this urban populace would require government focusing on housing strategies and policies that would be sustainable and affordable.

To the NBRRI boss, the one viable way to go it is the facilitation of extensive mass housing development projects that would almost exclusively employ indigenous materials and building techniques. He added that there are certain strategies that would help to facilitate low-cost housing, using local building materials. Most of the housing programmes of the Nigerian government have suffered setbacks mainly as a result of the high cost of conventional building materials.

And this is not likely to change soon with the still soaring prices of building materials, especially cement, which is a key raw material in the country’s building sector. Consequently, there is the need to turn to alternative building materials that would be locally sourced or indigenous as they possess the advantages of availability, identity, job creation and affordability.

Research and development of new and affordable building materials was among the primary objectives of the Nigerian Building and Road Research Institute (NBRRI), established in 1978. Owing to this backdrop, the NBRRI sustains a strong synergy with the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) in virtually all its activities.

They are several materials that are locally sourced and would pass for building materials in Nigeria. Traditional communities in Nigeria built their houses to meet their social, cultural and religious needs, where the building materials then comprised mainly of mud, wood, stone, palm, grass and other appropriate vegetable materials.

These raw materials could be used as mono-components or could be processed into composites to further enhance their physical and mechanical properties. Historically, building earth has been the most widely used and known building material and it has been used for centuries to build in Nigeria. Improved forms of earthen materials have recently been more extensively used in urban areas and theses include stabilized blocks from laterite soils.

The inherent properties of these soils are greatly enhanced by stabilising materials such as cement, lime and in some cases bitumen with cement being the most commonly used. The purpose of earth stabilisation is to eliminate the deficiencies and improve the mechanical properties of the soils. The NBRRI and SON have in the forefront of extensive applied research and development into indigenous building materials and have notably done a lot of work on the Compressed and Stabilised Earth Bricks (CSEB). Stabilisation here, should be done using cement as it significantly improves the cohesive nature of the soil and clay as found in the mixture of other materials.

The durability of earth blocks can be improved through cement stabilization of between 5 and 12 percent with 8 percent being generally suitable for most soils. The NBRR has also shown through research that quality blocks can be produced at 4 percent cement stabilization under s compaction pressure of not less than 3N/mm2. Furthermore, Agbede Okunla, a construction expert, had stated that savings of within 30 to 40 percent can be realised from buildings using cement stabilized bricks of 45 percent sand and 5 percent cement.

According to him, government at all levels must turn away from the usual mode of housing delivery in Nigeria, such as the schemes that have been mainly housing provision for staff quarters, housing loans to government workers, direct housing construction in public schemes and site and service schemes. To many built environment pundits, all these efforts were effective to some extent, but did not really capture the interest of the low and medium earners amongst the populace.

The light of this foregoing, the government has taken the initiative in sensitising the private sector to actively participate by being the major financier of housing schemes in Nigeria. Even though ideal housing finance mechanisms have been put in place by the Government, it is still imperative that houses are built such that they are affordable to low and medium income earners both in the short and long-term context, one way to achieve this speedily to shift focus from conventional building materials to local building materials.

Hence, if the Government through its allied research and development agencies can sustain a more robust investment into the potentials of indigenous building materials, then it is possible to greatly reduce the cost implications of housing delivery in Nigeria without compromising the quality of houses being built. And local building materials can be used in the production of different components of the building like , insert: Compressed stabilised earth blocks roofs, walls, doors, floors and others

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