Caribbean Disaster Mitigation Project
Implemented by the Organization of American States
Unit of Sustainable Development and Environment
for the USAID Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance and the Caribbean Regional Program


CDMP Progress Bulletin

National Building Code Strengthening in the Caribbean

 Bulletin Date: December 1999

Different factors determine a building's resilience when subjected to the forces of high winds, ground shaking or flooding, all forces common in the natural hazards that affect the Caribbean. The design, siting and detailing of a building all contribute to its ability to survive the effects of a natural hazard. A thorough understanding of the magnitude and characteristics of the natural hazards prevalent in an area is critical to hazard-resistant building design. A locally adapted building code guides design decisions by defining, for typical building styles, engineering measures which will minimize the effects from expected hazards. When applied consistently, such a code can significantly reduce the long-term vulnerability of an area to natural hazards.

As one approach to regional vulnerability reduction, the Caribbean Disaster Mitigation Project (CDMP) has worked with the United Nations Center for Human Settlement (UNCHS) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) regional office in Barbados to develop national building codes for countries in the Eastern Caribbean. The importance of this work was underscored in the May 1997 US/Caribbean agreement, Partnership for Prosperity and Security in the Caribbean, in which it was agreed that, "The Caribbean nations will take steps to reduce damage by hurricanes and other natural disasters, by encouraging effective building design and construction standards through the promotion of the Caribbean Uniform Building Code (CUBiC)." A regional consensus on the importance of building codes was reached at the Forum on Building Codes and Standards in the Caribbean and Central America, held in Puerto Rico in September 1998. The forum was organized by the National Conference of States on Building Codes and Standards and co-sponsored by the Caribbean Development Bank, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank, the Conference of World Regions and the Organization of American States.

Proper implementation and administration of a building code is essential for an effective reduction of vulnerability to natural hazards. In addition to supporting the development of national building codes, CDMP supported the strengthening of the building inspectorate in the region to ensure appropriate enforcement of new and existing building codes.

National Building Code Development

To assist with the development of national building codes, UNCHS developed a model building code and guidelines for small structures, based on CUBiC, for the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS). This model code was first introduced in Anguilla.

In 1996, CDMP joined UNCHS to assist Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica and St. Lucia with the development of national building codes, using the OECS model code. In Antigua and Barbuda, the building code was completed and submitted to the Government in the summer of 1995. This proved an opportune time as in September, the island was severely impacted by Hurricane Luis, which damaged over seventy percent of the housing stock. The building code was used by both the public and private sector in undertaking reconstruction activities. Antigua and Barbuda has passed legislation (as regulations under the Development Control Ordinance) mandating the use of the Antigua Building Code for all buildings in Antigua and Barbuda. In Dominica, the draft national building code has been completed and is awaiting action by Parliament to legislate the code and guidelines as part of the Development Planning Act. In St. Lucia and Grenada, work on adapting the OECS code to existing structures and procedures is currently underway, with assistance of CDMP. CDMP has developed a draft matrix showing the status of building codes in territories throughout the Caribbean. As an example of the results of this building code development work, the draft building code and building guidelines for Grenada have been made available on the CDMP web site. The CDMP also produced an updated and expanded set of drawings for the building guidelines documents. These drawings are available in both graphical and AutoCAD formats.

For CDMP, the steps involved in adapting the model building code are:

  1. Government submits a request for technical assistance and appoints a national focal point institution.
  2. Prepare workplan, based on discussions with key stakeholders.
  3. Circulate OECS model code for review to key stakeholders.
  4. Prepare draft national code and guidelines, based on comments on the model code.
  5. Circulate draft code and guidelines, discuss enforcement issues and determine necessary legislative and regulatory work.
  6. Refine legislation and statutory instruments.
  7. Prepare final national code and guidelines.
  8. Arrange for dissemination of codes and guidelines.
  9. Adopt the code into law.

Building Inspector Training Course

To assist with the proper enfocement of new and existing codes, CDMP supported the Barbados Community College in the organization and implementation of a three-week course for building inspectors, in Fall 1999. This is the second such course offered in the region, following a similar course mounted in the early 1990s by CAST (now UTECH) in Jamaica. 15 inspectors, representing Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia and the Turks and Caicos Islands, participated in the 1999 course. A review of these two courses and a final report from the BCC course are available on the CDMP web site.


At the Puerto Rico Forum, a dialogue was initiated by CDMP with CDB, the CARICOM Secretariat and several of the professionals who prepared the first CUBiC, on the feasibility of the upgrading of CUBiC. Shortly thereafter, an agreement was reached between the 3 agencies under which the CDMP would contract the necessary preparatory studies and formulation of a detailed proposal for the updating of CUBiC, the CARICOM Secretariat would request assistance from the CDB in financing the implementation of the proposal that would result from CDMP input, and the CDB would seek approval from its Board of Directors to finance this project. This process is underway. The NCS/BCS and the CDMP facilitated the participation of several Caribbean professionals in a major conference on the new International Building Code. The CDMP has contracted a team of 5 prominent engineers and architects who started with the preliminary studies and preparation of the proposal, and with the official request from the CARICOM Secretariat, the CDB staff received approval in principle from the Board for funding of the upgrading of CUBiC. The full proposal was presented to the CDB in the fall of 1999; this proposal is still under review by the CDB staff.

Dominican Republic: Upgrading of the Wind Provisions of the Building Code

The poor performance of many structures in the Dominican Republic under the high wind conditions caused by hurricane Georges led the Ministry of Public Works and Communications (SEOPC) to request assistance with the updating of wind-loading standards for use in new construction. 

Working with the Directorate of Regulations and Systems of SEPC, the CDMP contracted a team of experts from the Instituto Technonlgico of santo Domingo (INTEC), assisted by a consulting engineer from Barbados and a wind engineer from the University of Puerto Rico. The team reviewed existing standards in use in the Dominican Republic, and studied the latest available standards in use in several countries (ASCE-7 in the USA, CUBiC in the CARICOM countries, and standards from Venezuela and Australia). The final document was completed in November 1999, and includes updated wind loading standards, a wind-speed zoning of the country, pressure coefficients for a wide typology of structures in use in the country, and guidelines for application. The document will serve as a valuable input to the new national building code, which is under development in the country.

In December of 1999, a one week seminar was organized by the SEOPC and the Secretaria Tecnica de la Presidencia (STP), with assistance from the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the OAS and USAID. The Seminar offered an opportunity to present the work on wind-code updating supported by CDMP. The WB and the IDB supported the seminar in the context of their substantial reconstruction lending following hurricane Georges.

Belize Building Code

Prompted by the close call of Hurricane Mitch, the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) approached the CDMP with a request for technical cooperation in reviewing the building code and practices in Belize. The CDMP and the Belize private sector, led by the insurance industry, had collaborated in an earlier workshop on disaster loss reduction, during which the need for safe construction received ample attention. The CDMP responded by sending a technical mission in April 1999, and by organizing with the BCCI a two day national consultation on the subject. Based on these initial efforts, a six month program was started in early May, which led to the development of a draft national building code and accompanying legislation and administrative mechanisms based on the OECS model code. Development of this code required more work that initially envisaged, because of the differences in physical conditions and meteorological patterns between Belize and the territories that make up the OECS. Three separate, but linked, documents were developed: Belize Residential Construction Standards [for homes of less than 3,000 sq. ft of floor area], Belize Building Act and Regulations, and Belize National Building Standards. Using funding from the Inter-american Development Bank, the BCCI will organize a training effort for small builders, beginning in early 2000.

Barbados Building Authority

In Barbados, reviews of the current building practices and the need to ensure that buildings are constructed so that they can resist the hazards of hurricanes, torrential rains and earthquakes have led to the development of a National Building Code. This document was made available to the public in 1993, and contains building standards, which, if used, will provide "safe" and economic buildings. The use of this code has not been mandated by law, and to do this, it is desirable to have an institution that will be capable of enforcing the use of the standards contained in the code and to regulate the building industry, so that as far as it can be done, the building standards can be improved at minimum additional cost. In 1998, the Barbados government started a national effort of updating its building code, and established a Building Code Advisory Committee. Following the Puerto Rico Forum, this Committee requested assistance from the CDMP in preparing the legislative and administrative basis for a Building Authority. The CDMP provided assistance in the form of a six-week consultancy, to review the existing laws and administrative structures, to estimate costs and fees for code administration and inspection and to propose a structure for a national building authority. The recommendations of the CDMP report are under review by the Government of Barbados.

For further information, see the CDMP thematic page entitled Hazard-resistant Construction.

CDMP home page: Project Contacts Page Last Updated: 20 April 2001