5 innovative humanitarian shelter solutions

The Emergency Shelter by Conrad Gargett displayed during an exhibition. The aim of this shelter is to protect people from the elements and provide ample space to feel secure and comfortable in a disastrous environment. Photo by: Conrad Gargett

To better serve people displaced by disasters, whether natural or man-made, aid agencies are developing innovative shelters. These solutions are designed to be more durable, cheaper and easier to assemble and procure.

Here are some examples of innovative humanitarian shelters.

Better Shelter

 Assembly of Better Shelter prototype at the Hilawyen Refugee camp in Ethiopia. Photo by: BetterShelter.org

When Devex reported about this solution, it was still undergoing testing. Now, as per a press release issued in late March, production was ready to begin and that the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees looks to start deliver the 10,000 units it has ordered in the summer of 2015.

Produced by the social enterprise that goes by the same name, Better Shelter, formerly Refugee Housing Unit, offers “safer and more durable shelter for refugee families around the world.” It’s a product of the collaboration between UNHCR and the Ikea Foundation, which created the Better Shelter social enterprise.

And much like Ikea products, the refugee housing unit uses the flat-pack model: Assembly of the shelter can be done without additional tools and equipment and it can be equipped with a solar panel and lamp to produce light during dark hours. It has an estimated life span of three years.

Conrad Gargett’s Emergency Shelter Project

The flat pack solution was Conrad Gargett’s entry to an exhibition organized by architect Jun Sakaguchi in 2011, following a series of disasters including Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. The event aims to raise funds for natural disaster relief and awareness about the needs of people displaced by disasters.  

The exhibition called on architects to propose shelters that not only provide protection, but also security and comfort in an environment affected by disasters and that they can be transported and reused as well as built by nonskilled labor in a day.

Inside view of the Emergency Shelter.

The cube shelter comes in “kits of parts” that can be combined without the need of mechanical tools. A skin of plywood and plastic shingles enclose the structure. According to the company, the shingles may be unhooked, rearranged and propped open, allowing for personalization of the shelter according to individual needs.

The Conrad Gargett shelter has been part of other exhibitions and won the first place in the 2013 International Young Ideas Awards and Exhibition in Antalya, Turkey

HuSh1 and HuSh2

Watch the video on HuSh1 being deployed.

Like Better Shelter, these transitional shelters from Extremis Technology use the flat pack technology. HuSh1 is for general deployment while its robust version, HuSh2, is for hurricane zones.

The concept behind HuSh1 and its robust version HuSh2 was developed in January 2010, in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake.

“We were looking for something that could be deployed really quickly (minutes rather than days), didn’t require tools and didn’t have any separate parts,” Mark Aspinall, chairman of Extremis Technology, told Devex in an email, adding that his team wanted it to fold flat so it didn’t take up too much space in transportation.

Watch a visual guide on how HuSh2 works.

Extremis has created a full-scale prototype, which was for10 months tested for strength, durability and waterproofness, among others, at the Shelterbox site in Cornwall, England.  According to Aspinall, Extremis is in talks with two different charities about a trial deployment of about 20 shelters but details as to where that will take place “is still to be confirmed.”

Norwegian Refugee Council’s Lebanon Shelter Program

A family living in one of the “upgraded” buildings. Photo by: Norwegian Refugee Council

Lebanon currently hosts more than 1.4 million refugees. But because of its refusal to create formal camps, refugees had to rent houses in host communities which can be costly. Some live in unfinished structures, often lacking windows, proper doors, electricity and water.

Here’s what the Norwegian Refugee Council has come up with to alleviate the refugee housing crisis in Lebanon: It offers to upgrade units in unfinished buildings to minimum standards, spending an average of $1,500 in materials, in exchange for one-year rent free hosting of refugees.

“The assumption behind this intervention is that at the end of this period the displaced family may have been able to establish themselves economically and enter the rent-paying sector,” and if so, NRC will facilitate discussions between the building owner and the refugee family to develop a new rental agreement, according to the note provided by NRC to Devex.

Tuareg tent

IFRC’s shelter used in Sahel. Photo by: IFRC

Developed by the Shelter Research Unit of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the transitional shelter improves on the typical family tent used in the Sahel’s Tuareg communities, at it uses culturally appropriate solution considerably cheaper” materials. Each tuareg tent costs $150 as compared to $350 per typical tent.

With the introduction of the shade net, the tuareg tent offers better thermal performance. Testing showed internal termperature is 10 degrees Centrigrade lower than the typical family tent.

And because materials are locally procured, delivery is relatively faster and flexible, generating local employment, according to IFRC.

Do you know of other innovative shelter designs? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

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About the author

  • Ma. Eliza Villarino

    Eliza is a veteran journalist focused on covering the most pressing issues and latest innovations in global health, humanitarian aid, sustainability, and development. A member of Mensa, Eliza has earned a master's degree in public affairs and bachelor's degree in political science from the University of the Philippines.

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