In most countries, people consider shelter their most important economic asset. Shelter is also critical to both sustaining life and supporting productive activities. Shelter is, therefore, more than just a house; it can also be an office, shop, factory, warehouse, granary, and barn. Furthermore, shelter provides an excellent means of understanding a country’s society, culture, economy, and politics. If one can "read" shelter (or more accurately, shelter markets) one will have some understanding of a society’s group, gender, and generational relations, the value placed on environmental management, and the economic and political power wielded by various groups.
Shelter and related support services are key features of settlements because of the economic, social, and cultural importance of shelter and the fact that shelter and services typically occupy a majority of the land in larger settlements. In their simplest form, settlements are concentrations of people in physical space. Settlements range in size from the smallest hamlets to the largest "mega-cities" of 10 million or more people. Therefore, separating shelter from the larger context of settlements is all but impossible, and the natural hazards and resource issues that are often the source of disasters and conflicts. Shelter sector activities are an excellent means of addressing these important issues.
This section will provide information on shelter and settlements interventions, discuss the important role that shelter can assume in promoting livelihoods and reducing the impacts of disasters and conflicts, and discuss the components of camp development in the event that other, more cost-effective interventions are not possible.
Where settlements, and the houses within them, are located, how they have developed physically over time, how rapidly they have grown, how strong and inclusive their economies are, and how well they are managed, especially in times of crisis, will largely determine whether they become the sites of future disasters and conflicts. Settlements located in floodplains, for example, will be subjected to floods, while settlements that do not provide equal opportunities and services for all residents may be the sites of future conflicts.
Damage to settlements and housing caused by natural disasters or human-caused conflicts may require a wide range of responses. These responses may include provision of plastic sheeting and related relief materials, provision of assistance to guest families and host families and communities, provision of transitional assistance designed to address pressing needs while also jump-starting the reconstruction process, or provision of camp settlements. Some of these response options can be the basis for multisector efforts designed to link relief and development activities, often through measures aimed at reducing the impact of disasters.
Shelter needs should not be derived or assumed based on damage assessments alone, but also through interaction with affected populations. Therefore, timing, participation, and needs are critical elements of any intervention. Shelter is one of the most important determinants of general living conditions. Although the basic need for shelter is similar in most emergencies, considerations such as the kind of housing needed, what materials and design are used, who constructs the housing, and how long it must last will differ in each situation.
A key objective of any shelter sector intervention should be the timely provision of safe, secure, private, and habitable shelter that provides protection from the elements. The intervention should feature the provision of covered living space of at least
3.5 m2 per person, cognizant that expansion is probable as part of a future, incremental construction process. The covered living space provided should enable separation and privacy between the sexes, between different age groups and between separate families within a given household, as needed. Further, the space provided should accommodate new or pre-disaster/crisis livelihood activities within the shelter. Achieving this objective often requires a coordinated effort among donors, NGOs, local and national governments, and affected populations.
Lack of adequate shelter and clothing can have a major adverse effect on the health and nutritional status of displaced people. Thus, in addition to shelter, the provision of sufficient blankets, appropriate clothing, and possibly heaters will be a high priority.
Neither prefabricated buildings nor specially developed emergency shelter units have proved effective in DP emergencies due to their relatively high unit costs, transportation requirements, and inflexibility. Also, emergency shelter arrangements are likely to have been constructed before such systems arrive. For similar reasons, tents are often not an effective means of providing shelter. They are difficult to live in and provide little insulation from temperature extremes. Tents, however, may be useful for DPs of nomadic origin or when local materials are not available or are only seasonally available. If tents are used, repair materials should be provided.
The best way to meet emergency shelter needs is to ensure the availability of materials or shelter similar to those normally used by the displaced population or the local population. Only if such materials cannot be acquired locally should emergency shelter material be brought into the country.
Shelter must be available so that other services can be developed properly. Emergency materials should be reusable for the construction of improved housing wherever possible. Where local materials are in short supply or have a short life, consider acquiring more permanent materials. Fire-resistant materials may be needed in areas with a high density of shelters.
The key to providing adequate shelter is the roof. If materials for constructing a complete shelter are inadequate, priority should be given to constructing a roof. Walls can be made of earth or other materials found onsite location or made locally available.
Housing should meet the cultural and social requirements of the DPs. Familiar housing will help reduce the disorientation and emotional stress suffered by the displaced population. To the extent possible, longer term housing must be similar in design and construction to that with which the DPs are familiar, while reflecting local conditions and practice. This process will generally mean single-family shelters, unless the DPs are accustomed to multi-family units. Although more costly, the benefits of individ-ual homes for the displaced population cannot be overstated. The risk of communicable diseases increases enormously in communal shelters. Experience has shown that social and environmental problems may also rise if people live in large, multi-family shelters. Also, buildings made from local materials may be approaching their structural limits at this size.
Materials and design should meet the minimum technical standards for the local seasons. For example, roof material must be strong enough to withstand damage by the sun, rain, snow, and winds. OFDA-supplied plastic sheeting has been very effective as roofing material; see the plastic sheeting section of appendix B for more information. Raised flooring is required in areas of high rainfall. Wall material must afford privacy and protection from the elements. If the site lies in a hazard-prone area (e.g., an area subject to earthquakes or cyclones), the design of buildings and their siting should conform to hazard-resistant criteria. In buildings where cleanliness and hygiene are particularly important, the floor should be cement or at least washable.
Even emergency shelter, including communal buildings, should be built by the DPs, provided adequate organization and material support is given. Using DPs for construction will help ensure that housing will meet their particular needs. Work by DPs will reduce their sense of dependence and can cut costs considerably. Where beneficiaries are unable to engage in self-help, shelter assistance can be provided by adopting either an assisted self-help or fully contracted mode of delivery.
Questions to consider when identifying shelter interventions include the following:
The monitoring and evaluation of shelter interventions must not merely report on the number of damaged houses, or catalogue the amount of shelter material that was distributed, but rather how many people need shelter assistance, and how many received shelter assistance as a result of material distributions.
Although circumstances may make DP camps unavoidable, the establishment of camps must be a last resort, because of the high cost and many problems associated with both camp development and operations. The location of a DP camp may range from a spontaneous settlement over a wide area, to an organized rural settlement, to a concentration in a very limited area. A solution that maintains and fosters self-reliance among the displaced population is always preferable.
If no immediate solutions arise to resolving the causes of displacement, planning for the DPs’ needs should assume a long-term outlook. Temporary arrangements can be difficult to change once they are established. Site selection, planning, and the provision of shelter have a direct bearing on the provision of other assistance. They are important considerations in the overall assessment of needs and the planning of emergency response.
Decisions must be made as part of an integrated approach taking into account advice from experts, and views of displaced people.
Expertise may be required in the fields of geology, shelter/settlements, planning, engineering, and public health. Familiarity with local conditions in both the DPs’ area of origin and their present location is important, as is previous experience in similar emergency situations.
There may be a need to set up a reception or transit center through which DPs pass on the way to a longer term settlement site. These centers must have the same considerations as those relevant to long-term settlements.
Planned temporary settlements or self-settled camps should feature a minimum surface area of 45m2 per person. The surface area planning guideline of 45m2 per person includes household plots and space for roads, foot paths, educational facilities, sanitation, firebreaks, administration, water storage, distribution areas, markets and storage, plus limited gardens for individual households. Area planning should also consider possible future growth. If the minimum surface area cannot be provided, consideration should be given to mitigating the consequences of the higher density to ensure adequate separation between individual households and space for required facilities.
Following are some general things to consider during site planning: