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Did you know that the wood industry is one of the most prosperous sectors worldwide? In fact, the forestry sector directly employs more than 18.21 million people globally and contributes more than 540 billion dollars to world GDP. This sector, when properly regulated to prevent illegal deforestation, is vital for the environment, since the nurture and management of healthy forests favors the reduction of air pollution and climate regulation.
Although it may be surprising, the use of wood as a construction material is one of the most effective ways to preserve the environment. In the first blog post of this series, we address how wood is considered one of the most sustainable materials for housing construction. Many countries know the benefits of wood as a construction material. Without going any further, the proportion of new homes made with this material, both totally and partially, can exceed 60% in Japan, 70% in Scotland and 85% in the United States.
Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) should not be an exception on this, lagging in the development of an industry that is so beneficial for the economy, as well as sustainable for the environment. In today’s blog we go to Uruguay to find out how the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) is collaborating with the country’s government in promoting a roadmap for the construction of social housing in wood. The process that is being applied is highly participatory, since it prioritizes and prioritizes issues to overcome the barriers that have prevented the full development of the sector.
The wood industry in Uruguay
The forestry industry is highly relevant in Uruguay since it exceeds 2,100 million dollars and represents almost 4% of the national GDP. Likewise, it directly generates around 18,000 jobs, a figure that rises to more than 25,000 jobs when indirect and induced effects are considered.
It was from 1987 when, thanks to the implementation of the Forest Law, the wood industry began to grow exponentially in the country. It went from around 200,000 forest hectares in the 1990s to nearly a million hectares in 2020. As a result of this legislation, the sector is continuously growing, so it is in the interest of the national government to promote the forestry sector, construction and carpentry to make use of this large volume of value-added production.
To respond to this need, the Government of Uruguay created in 2020 the Honorary Commission for Wood (CHM), made up of all the sectors involved: public, private, and academic. Its objective is clear: to prepare, coordinate and monitor the execution of a plan for the promotion and development of the use of national wood for construction and carpentry purposes.
What is the state of the wood housing construction sector in Uruguay?
The state of the housing construction sector is still embryonic in Uruguay. Although it is true that Uruguay is not a country with a long tradition of wood construction, there is a record of at least 14 social housing projects made of wood, which add up to more than 260 units built in recent decades with this material. All of them have a common denominator: the impulse from the institutions for their development, either from the departmental governments or in agreements with other state agencies or institutions.
However, the construction of wooden houses has a promising future in Uruguay. The National Government, through the Ministry of Housing and Territorial Planning (MVOT), ensures in its Five-Year Housing Plan 2020-2024 that in this period it must offer 105,545 housing solutions, which include construction of new homes, relocations, repairs, or neighborhood improvement, among others. In the same document, the MVOT states as one of its objectives the promotion of the use of wood of national origin in construction solutions aimed at increasing the supply of public housing.
To make this a reality and promote the construction of houses made of wood, the IDB, with the support of the Japanese Special Fund, has contributed to the preparation of a Roadmap for the Construction of Social Housing in Wood. Keep reading to learn more about how the IDB is supporting this goal.
The IDB’s commitment to building houses made of wood
A participatory process was developed. It involved all the actors of the sector in Uruguay that will allow the implementation of a set of prioritized actions. They will be focused on a roadmap and with a governance of multisectoral and multilevel actors to overcome the barriers that have prevented the full development of this sector.
The roadmap presents 10 lines of work on which the actions will be developed over the next two years:
- Generate or update national or departmental regulations for wood construction (national fire decree, horizontal property law, wood durability, among others).
- Develop and execute various pilot projects in wood, such as high-rise and extension housing and public buildings to consistently activate the demand for wood.
- Complete the national wood characterization work to support the regulatory update and certify its production standards.
- Generate and implement collaborative multilevel capacity building programs, both in the public and private spheres.
- Develop constructive solutions appropriate to national wood and the required performance standards (structure, fire, acoustic, thermal).
- Prepare an investment and support program to improve the competitiveness and productivity of logging SMEs, including training and partnership activities.
- Conceive and implement an effective communication strategy towards different audiences, such as users, developers, professionals, and the general public.
- Provide incentives (exemptions, contributions, financial or insurance costs) to private developers so that they opt for wood construction.
- Promote national trade in forestry production, aiming at a constant and quality offer for sawmilling and component production lumber SMEs.
- Generate design guides, specifications, construction, reception of works and use of buildings made of wood for the target audiences.
It also has a transversal axis that is the generation of a governance structure with multiple actors, which will be incorporated into other initiatives that are already under development. Before the end of the year, the creation of technical groups, the presentation of work plans and the definition of indicators are expected. In two years, the first publication of results will be made and in four years the HDR evaluation will be published.
The future of wood construction in the region
With this roadmap, Uruguay is closer to achieving a sustainable and productive housing sector thanks to the support of the IDB, with donation resources from the Japanese Special Fund. We trust that other countries will follow in the footsteps of Uruguay and overcome the barriers that limit the development of the construction of housing solutions with wood, the most suitable material for construction in the 21st century.
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Text based on “Road Map for the Promotion of Social Housing in Wood in Uruguay”, by Juan José Ugarte, Andrés Sierra and Karen Codriansky; Inter-American Development Bank and Ministry of Housing and Territorial Planning of Uruguay