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Healthy Housing is a Part of PAHO's Centennial Celebration

Villa CentenarioIn mid-September 2001, the first of a group of families left homeless by earthquakes in the Suncita canton of Acajutla, El Salvador received the keys to a new home. VIVISAL - short for vivienda saludable, or "healthy housing" is an initiative to provide housing and health services for this rural zone that was devastated by earthquakes last year. The project is being carried out by PAHO, El Salvador's Ministry of Public Health, the Vice Ministry of Housing, and the municipality of Acajutla, Department of Sonsonate. International donors have provided additional funding.

The 6.3-hectare pilot project combines simple, easy-to-construct housing units with basic sanitary services and environmental protection, and will include a sports field, community center, mill, bakery, child care center, and communal farmland. In honor of PAHO's centennial, the 100 houses will be numbered from 1902 to 2002.

The project was developed in the aftermath of earthquakes that struck El Salvador in January and February 2001, leaving more than 1,200 people dead, nearly 9,000 injured, and some 1.6 million homeless. Many of the deaths and injuries resulted from the collapse of poorly constructed homes built in high-risk areas such as hillsides or flood-prone low-lying areas.

In the months following the earthquakes, a team of engineers in the Environmental Health Unit of PAHO's country office in El Salvador decided to develop a prototype of "healthy housing" that would be low-cost but more resistant to damage from earthquakes and other natural disasters.

VIVISAL's Villa Centenario was the outgrowth of their effort. "This was conceived as a healthy community, which would provide an integral solution to the Villa Centenarioproblems of a lack of housing due to the earthquakes, demonstrating the possibility of a healthy environment where there is health promotion, a reduction in vulnerability to natural disasters, and where you have the basic elements of sanitary engineering to prevent the spread of communicable diseases," says Dr. Horacio Toro, PAHO representative in El Salvador.

The central concept of VIVISAL is community participation, with families building their own homes using simple construction materials and basic tools such as saws, hammers, trowels and zinc cutters. The houses have basic conveniences including toilets, showers, a bathroom and kitchen sinks, water tanks, stoves, netting-enclosed pantries, water pumps, and filters-all constructed or assembled on site using materials that are readily accessible. The total cost of materials for the basic model home is about US$2,000. El Salvador's Ministry of Health will provide medical services, including vaccination, to Villa Centenario's families.

The PAHO-VIVISAL model is being adopted by El Salvador's Vice Ministry of Housing as the basis for rural reconstruction throughout the country. PAHO Director Dr. George Alleyne says the project could serve as a model for rural housing elsewhere in the region, illustrating a practical way to provide better quality housing to the poorest populations and contribute to improvements in community health.

For more information, contact Dr. Horacio Toro,PAHO/WHO Representative in El Salvador at htoro@els.ops-oms.org or Jorge Jenkins at jjenkins@els.ops-oms.org

Heading for further details, visit Villa Centenario (Only in Spanish).