Over 10 million Colombians live in houses that are weak and likely to collapse in the event of an earthquake. The municipalities of Bogotá and Medellín recognize that they stand to take a big step backwards if they do not intervene to improve housing construction. Thus, they have allocated funds to subsidize structural upgrades in earmarked neighborhoods. Even so, few retrofits have been completed to date. Build Change aims to support these municipalities in retrofitting unsafe buildings, and eventually expand the program to other locations.

12 Safer Buildings

20 Safer People

106 People Trained

56 Jobs Created

4 Organizations Changed



Colombia has experienced sustained economic growth and improved political stability over the past 15 years. Although this prosperity is positive, it has also contributed to the uncontrolled densification of houses and increased seismic risk in urban neighborhoods. Colombia’s economic growth could be wiped away by even a moderate earthquake. In order to make buildings safer and sustain Colombia’s burgeoning economy, Build Change is focusing on retrofitting to create more resilient communities. With support from RMS, Build Change is partnering with SwissContact and Colombia’s Servicio Nacional de Aprendizaje (SENA) to train local construction industry professionals in retrofitting techniques. SENA is a public entity under the Ministry of Labor in Colombia that offers free training to Colombians to foster economic, technological, and social development of the country.

To support ongoing efforts of municipal governments to increase urban disaster resilience, Build Change and our NGO and government partners developed an easy-to-use retrofit evaluation and implementation procedure which complements the national building code.

With support from RMS and Swiss Re Foundation, the first phase of our project in Bogotá has seen the completion of 49 retrofit design packages, with 1 approved for construction by city officials.


Build Change is designed two targeted training-of-trainers courses for SENA. The first course taught Colombian engineers, architects, and construction technicians to conduct seismic evaluations, produce retrofitting designs, and provide supervision during retrofitting. The second course trained builders in retrofitting techniques. SENA is using these courses to train other organizations in Colombia.

Training people to retrofit buildings is one essential step toward large-scale disaster risk reduction; Build Change is partnering with the Colombian government to leverage existing housing subsidy programs to provide access to capital needed to stimulate demand for disaster-resistant homes.

“My house needed structural reinforcement. I received structural training, which is just what I needed. Now I feel safer.”

Read Jorge’s Story here. 

We are Committed.

As part of the 2013 Clinton Global Initiative Latin America meeting, Build Change committed to develop the capacity of Servicio Nacional de Aprendizaje and other Colombian organizations by providing training-of-trainers in retrofitting techniques.

Read our commitment: Teaching Retrofitting to Foster Safer Housing in Colombia.

Support Our Work in Colombia

We are seeking partners in the following areas to support our programs in Colombia:

    • Corporations and foundations
    • The private sector, including engineers, builders, producers, and construction materials producers and suppliers
    • Financing and insurance institutions
    • Public sector institutions, including public works agencies and municipal engineers
    • Implementing partners, including NGOs


Region and Risks

Due to population growth and increased urbanization, 74% of Colombia’s population now lives in cities. This increase has led to the densification of informal neighborhoods in Colombia, where homes are built and expanded using poor-quality materials, often without professional design or supervision; this leaves families particularly vulnerable to seismic risk. Upwards of 60% of the urban plots in Colombia have an informal building on them, and tearing down their home to rebuild a safer house is not an option for most. The best option for increasing the safety of families in these neighborhoods is to strengthen the buildings that are already in existence.

Presently, more than 2.5 million buildings in Colombia are substandard, making them vulnerable to earthquakes and hurricanes. Home improvement efforts are constrained by lack of capital, poor-quality materials, and inadequate construction practices, among other factors.

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Colombia Legal Documents