Only 30% of homes in Guatemala meet minimum construction safety standards

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By LatAm Reports Editor

In Guatemala, most housing solutions are built empirically, especially outside the metropolitan area.

The houses or apartments in which more than 70% of Guatemalan families live were built without following the minimum construction standards that require the use of regulated materials such as block, cement and iron, among others.

This information was announced at the Seminar in Commemoration of the earthquake of February 4, 1976, which occurred 48 years ago, an event held with the purpose of promoting resilient construction, observing compliance with current rules and regulations in Guatemala.

José Antonio Solares, director of the Guatemalan Cement and Concrete Institute (ICCG), in this context, commented that it is necessary to train those who are building to improve techniques, since the structural configuration, the quality of the materials, the site in which it is built and the abuse of construction systems are factors that make buildings vulnerable to earthquakes.

Solares added that there is no control of product compliance with standards, which must be considered so that the authorities exercise control over the quality of materials, both domestically produced and imported, as well as ensuring that regulatory standards are met. of construction at the national level.

Héctor Monzón Despang, expert engineer in seismic and structural issues, reinforced by indicating that 30% of cement consumption in the country is destined for buildings in the metropolitan area; It was agreed that the remaining 70% is minor construction, around the capital city.

Standards do not apply to housing

For his part, Byron Paiz Aragón, director of Technical Committees of the Guatemalan Association of Structural and Seismic Engineering (AGIES), commented that it is the Agreement of the National Council for Disaster Reduction 03-2019, specifically in articles 2 and 3, the that governs this issue based on the standards generated by AGIES.

However, he explained that this regulation does not apply to housing construction, “because those who issued the Agreement considered that it was convenient to leave all housing constructions outside of it,” which has generated a social problem of vulnerability to earthquakes, in addition of a large volume of non-compliance.

The Agreement of the National Council for Disaster Reduction 03-2019, in its article 7, establishes that local municipalities, as the highest authority of each municipality, are responsible for ensuring compliance with the regulations.

Paiz Aragón added that there is a need for a training and standardization process on the issue of housing, indicating that the adoption of standards by municipalities is a political decision. However, in doing so they must enforce compliance and the majority of small communes do not have the possibility of hiring engineers or trained people to review each case.

“This is the real reason why the rules are not followed to enforce them regarding the construction of residences,” he added.

For its part, the National Coordinator for Disaster Reduction (Conred) confirmed that currently, there is no regulation adopted by this entity for housing specifically. “But work is being done to promote standards associated with structural safety in housing,” communicated through his spokesperson Rodolfo García.


Monzón Despang added that it is essential to promote middle-level education on technicalization in construction, in educational entities such as the Technical Institute of Training and Productivity (Intecap).

In addition, he accepted that there is a debt on the part of the academy and trade associations to generate enough material for this education sector, in addition to joint work.

In this sense, José Antonio Solares, director of the Guatemalan Cement and Concrete Institute (ICCG), commented, on the contrary, that in synergy with other institutions, they have taken on the task of training master builders and bricklayers to build with a culture of prevention.

“The goal is to train them and complete the complete construction cycle based on the use of standardized materials,” he added, indicating that construction material suppliers must present the quality of the products, such as the regulated block, that resists the appropriate load in middle of an earthquake.

Likewise, he explained that a cement can be good and standardized, but if it is not well bonded there is a risk and that is one of the reasons for sharing the appropriate seismic resistance methodology.

Consequence warning study

A study executed by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID); PREPARE – Preparation to reduce the social and economic impact of earthquakes – and the Japanese consulting firm Miyamoto, announced in 2021 the probabilistic evaluation of seismic risk in the metropolitan area of ​​Guatemala City.

The objectives of the evaluation are to probabilistically estimate the expected risks of physical damage to buildings, fatalities and injuries in day and night scenarios, as well as the number of internally displaced people and the volume of debris that would result from the design earthquake in the Guatemala city.

And the findings can be used to prepare policies, plans or training activities to reduce the social and economic impacts caused by future earthquakes in this jurisdiction. Among the results, findings and conclusions are:

* The number of buildings expected to be marked with a yellow label (moderate to considerable damage) or with a red label (total damage or collapse) is estimated at around 30,300 or approximately 67% of the total set of buildings.

* Depending on the time of day in which the event occurs, between 1,800 and 2,400 fatalities are expected (for an estimated rate of 0.9%). In addition to 14,200 to 19,100 injuries (for an estimated rate of 7.5%).

* About 115 thousand displaced people are expected immediately after the event, a number that constitutes a large percentage, 64% of the total population.

* The expected volume of debris generated, 3 million 700 thousand cubic meters, is considerable and must be taken into account in the post-earthquake response plan.

This article has been translated from the original which first appeared in Prensa Libre