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FEATURE STORYJune 11, 2023

Building foundations for a safe, green and inclusive built environment in Sub-Saharan Africa

Building regulations for resilience feature photo

Aerial View of Mombasa City, Kenya. 

©Hamid Lens /


  • A new report provides a snapshot of the status of building regulatory frameworks in the Sub-Saharan Africa region.
  • The study reviewed the current building regulations in the region and how well they enable a safer, more resilient, inclusive and sustainable built environment.
  • Key recommendations include the need to develop more comprehensive and up-to-date building codes informed by latest climate and disaster risk information, ensure that building regulatory frameworks address the prevalence of non-engineered construction in the region, and the need for capacity enhancement for building regulation implementation.

Building regulatory frameworks, which comprise a set of laws, regulations and implementation mechanisms that reference the planning, design, construction, and control mechanisms, have proven to be the most effective tools to protect health and safety in the built environment and reduce disaster risk. This is especially true in Sub-Saharan Africa where population growth and a rapid transition from rural to urban development is expected to lead to a demand for hundreds of millions of new buildings over the next few decades. This study, Building Regulations in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Status Review of Sub-Saharan Africa’s Building Regulatory Environment, supported by the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), provides the first comprehensive snapshot of the building regulatory environment in the region. Data was gathered through a desktop review of regulatory documents from all 48 countries in the region, with additional information provided by survey data and interviews from public and private sector experts on the ground.

Tailored for the country context

In many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, regulations are out-of-date and based on documents from the colonial era; often these have not been adapted to the country context in terms of planning, design for local climate and hazards, and construction practices. Because strong ties still exist to European building and construction practice, some countries have sought to update their regulations by adopting current European codes (for example, Eurocodes). Challenges remain in adapting these codes and standards so that they are appropriate for each country, and developing new regulations to fit specific country contexts.

In addition, most of the building stock in the region consists of small-scale residential buildings which were developed using non-engineered or vernacular construction methods by local communities. Therefore, simplified design provisions and/or guidelines for common types of small-scale buildings are needed, to provide enhanced safety for people who may not be able to afford buildings designed by professional designers or built with relatively expensive modern materials.

Non-Engineered House in Malawi

BRR feature story Mali house

Source: tschuma417 /

Improved building regulations

Out of the 48 countries in the region, the study found that only four countries (Ghana, Rwanda, South Africa, and Uganda) have updated and reformed their building regulatory documents in the last decade. Although 45 countries have some form of legally adopted building regulations related to planning, permitting and/or building control, these regulations consist of an uncoordinated set of documents and/or are lacking specifications in key areas. For example, only in 25 countries have provisions related to building design, but these provisions are limited or lacking comprehensiveness. Other key areas that require improvement include coverage for provisions to reduce risk from natural hazards such as strong winds and earthquakes, and provisions to improve energy efficiency and promote green building practices.

Since many buildings have been developed outside the formal regulatory and control system, regulations and incentives are needed to upgrade and standardize them using a flexible and incremental approach.

Coverage of Building Regulatory Frameworks in Sub-Saharan Africa