Habitat Colombia aligns its programs with Pan-American healthy housing strategy -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Habitat Colombia aligns its programs with Pan-American healthy housing strategy

By Anabella Cueto

In Latin America the risk factors affecting human health in terms of housing include, among countless others: inadequate construction materials; insufficient water storage and subsequent contamination; lack of hygiene; inadequate care of domestic animals, use of chemical substances without proper precautions; improper sewage systems; poor waste management and inadequate food storage.

In combination, these factors can cause illnesses such as acute diarrhea, gastritis, cholera, salmonella, chagas, malaria, yellow fever and dengue, as well as others repeatedly identified in the epidemiological profiles of populations living in slum conditions. Overcrowding and the lack of proper ventilation are also key factors in promoting these diseases.

The Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) is promoting a healthy housing strategy, with the purpose of decreasing the incidence of illnesses in the population and guaranteeing environmental sustainability, relating both of these factors with health and housing. It is clear that this cannot be achieved without the support of governments and social institutions that are dedicated to developing intersectoral, integrated development strategies.

The following chart relates each inadequate housing condition with its corresponding health risks, and the corrective measure recommended by the Healthy Housing Strategy.

Funded by state resources, Habitat for Humanity Colombia was contracted by PAHO to develop and execute a project in San Andres, an island off the coast of Colombia where the indigenous population (known as “raizales”) generally live in communities with an array of difficulties, such as poor sewage systems, lack of water storage and inadequate waste management.

The project aims to unite technical, administrative and financial resources to minimize the risk of water-borne illnesses. The goal is to improve housing conditions—particularly the water supply, environmental health and basic sanitation—of 305 rural families on the island.

The project includes four focus areas:

  • Improvement of water, sanitation and environmental infrastructure.
  • Integrative management and control of vectors, rodents and water-borne illnesses.
  • Institutional strengthening in health and environment.
  • Development of community education programs, in line with the strategies for Healthy Housing and Communication for Behavioral Impact (COMBI).

Community members and government representatives from the health and environment sector work together as facilitators and community agents. These individuals, considered volunteers with Habitat Colombia, have developed an educational process aligned with the Healthy Housing strategy, thus helping to identify preventative factors for health, environment and housing on a family and community level. To date, 50 home improvements have been carried out and six new model homes have been built.

Other projects and activities of HFH Colombia that are aligned with the PAHO healthy housing strategy include:

  • Project “Improving my housing”
    Based in Villarrica Cuaca, this project is geared towards basic hygiene in collection and suitability of water systems, bathrooms, kitchens and connections. The project benefits 100 primarily women-headed families of Afro-Colombian descent.
  • Training of 34 Habitat Colombia employees in the Healthy Housing Strategy
    Part of an alliance between the National Learning Service (SENA), the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) and Habitat for Humanity Colombia.
  • Training of 496 partner families in the Healthy Housing Strategy
    Habitat Colombia will provide training in the Healthy Housing Strategy for all 496 of its partner families in FY10, including basic themes such as water, waste management, food safety, family hygiene, home surroundings and environment.
  • Psychosocial recovery for displaced children
    In Sincelejo, Sucre, a project has been developed which aims to support the mental health of 50 children through the development of skills and attitudes through artistic means such as theater, journalism, painting, crafts and recreation.
  • Health training for families displaced by violence
    A total of 524 families in seven municipalities of Colombia will be trained and equipped with a healthy home kit that includes water filters, mosquito netting, kitchen equipment and other tools.
  • Youth support project in Puerto Tejada Cauca
    Support for youth through sport and recreation as a process of psychological recuperation, occupation of time and physical education. The project supports mental health and helps prevent the formation of gangs.


Identifying risk factors that exist in housing and its environments and the protective measures that can be implemented on the level of the family and the community can only be achieved through educational processes. The healthy housing program draws a path in this direction, planning and developing in such a way that its residents will not only decrease risks to their health, but also have a better understanding of their health and well-being.

Anabella Cueto is the project coordinator sor San Andres Saludable (Healthy San Andres) for Habitat for Humanity Colombia.