F. Shelter and Settlements

1. Background

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.

2. Shelter Interventions

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:

  • What shelter solutions have affected populations adopted in the immediate aftermath of a disaster or conflict? To what extent can these solutions serve as the basis for assistance from the humanitarian community?
  • Do opportunities exist to support families and communities who are willing to host affected people, often for an extended period of time?
  • Are interventions constrained by the onset of seasonal change? Is winter, or the rainy season, approaching, for example, thereby requiring a rapid response?
  • To what extent are the needs of the most vulnerable (e.g., those located on hazard-prone lands, and/or the poor, squatters, renters, young, elderly, handicapped, and displaced, reflected in damage and impact assessments)? Have these groups participated in the design of survey work, damage assessments, and identification of proposed responses?
  • Have local homebuilding industry capacities and capabilities been examined? What is the availability of local building materials? What are industry constraints? Can local sources of labor and materials support shelter repair and upgrading programs? Are imported materials such as plastic sheeting needed to supplement local materials?
  • To what extent can homebuilding industry engagement in repair activities help stimulate economic recovery/growth, particularly with regard to the generation of livelihood opportunities?
  • Have opportunities for mitigation and prevention of future disasters been identified? Are efforts to identify "harm’s way" and keep people out of it integral components of the analysis? If seismic hazards are present, for example, does shelter assistance include incorporation of seismic-resistant design measures, and provide hazard mapping for emergency and reconstruction planning?
  • Have opportunities for linkages to other sectoral activities (e.g., livelihoods, services, environmental management) been identified? Are these opportunities reflected in proposed interventions?
  • Emergency shelter activities often provide a framework for subsequent transitional reconstruction efforts, including the incorporation of disaster reduction measures. What linkage opportunities are incorporated into proposed interventions that link emergency work to longer term efforts?
  • To what extent do relevant government authorities support proposed actions? How are government reactions evidenced? What role is identified for local governments/organizations?
  • In addition to these guidelines, are Sphere Project Guidelines for shelter sector activities reflected in proposed interventions? These guidelines specify universally recognized levels of service, and should be supported wherever possible and appropriate.

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.

3. Camps: When Other Shelter Interventions Are Not Possible

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.

a. Criteria for Site Selection

  • Social Needs
    • If possible, the social and cultural backgrounds of the displaced population should be considered when determining a camp location. In most circumstances, however, the choice will be limited, and any land that meets even minimum standards may be scarce. Once a site is located, determine why the site was not already in use and examine whether the reason (e.g., no water or because it floods in the monsoon period) would exclude use by DPs.
  • Water
    • The single most important site-selection criterion is the availability of an adequate amount of water on a year-round basis. This most important factor is also commonly the most problematic. A site should not be selected on the assumption that water can be acquired merely by drilling, digging, or hauling. Drilling may not be feasible and may not provide adequate water. No site should be selected where the hauling of water will be required over a long period. A professional assessment of water availability should be a prerequisite in selecting a site.
    • Where water is readily available, drainage is a key criterion. For effective drainage, the entire site should be located above flood level at a minimum of 3 m above the water table, preferably on a gently sloping area. Flat sites can present serious problems for the drainage of waste and storm water. Marshes or areas likely to become marshy or soggy during the rainy season should be avoided. Conditions within the watershed may be a consideration.
  • Open Space
    • The site must provide a sufficient amount of usable space for the displaced population to engage in communal and agricultural activities, livestock husbandry, or other activities (e.g., recreation, meeting spaces, etc.). Although camp planning should be based on a known design capacity (e.g., shelter and other facilities sufficient for, say, 20,000 people), the possibility always exists that more people may arrive. To the extent possible, the site should be planned to accommodate a major influx of additional people. If the population has been displaced because of civil strife, the site should be removed from areas of potential conflict.
  • Accessibility
    • The site must be accessible by vehicles and close to communication links and sources of supplies and services such as food, cooking fuel, shelter material, and national community services.
  • Environmental Considerations
    • The area should be free of major environmental health hazards such as malaria, onchocerciasis (river blindness), schistosomiasis (bilharzia), or tsetse fly. Climatic conditions should be suitable for habitation throughout the year. For instance, a suitable site in the dry season may be unusable during the rainy season. While a daily breeze is an advantage, strong winds may damage emergency and temporary housing, especially tents. To the extent possible, DPs should not be settled in an area where the climate differs greatly from that to which they are accustomed.
  • Soil and Ground Cover
    • The soil should allow for water absorption and the retention of human waste. Rocky or impermeable sites should be avoided. If possible, land suitable for vegetable gardens and small-scale agriculture should be selected for the site.
    • The site should have a good groundcover of grass, bushes, or trees, as covering vegetation provides shade and reduces erosion and dust. During construction of the camp, care should be taken to cause as little damage as possible to the vegetation and topsoil. Bulldozers, if used, should avoid scrapping topsoil off the site, as often occurs. If wood must be used for domestic cooking fuel, it should not be taken from vegetation on the site. Alternative sources of fuel must be found as soon as possible to avoid irreplaceable loss of surrounding wood.
  • Land Rights
    • The land should be exempt from ownership, grazing, and other uses by local populations. Using such land can be a cause of local resentment. Authorities proposing the site may be unaware of customary rights exercised by local populations. Sites are often provided on public land by the government. Any use of the land must be based on formal legal arrangements in accordance with the laws of the country.

b. Site Planning

Following are some general things to consider during site planning:

  • At the onset of an emergency, the immediate provision of essential goods and services is more important than efforts to change the way people have already arranged themselves.
  • Site planning should account for the potential need for expansion.
  • Site planning should first consider the characteristics and needs of the individual family and reflect the wishes of the community as much as possible, particularly the needs of female-headed households.
  • The overall physical layout and other aspects of a site should reflect a decentralized, community-based approach focusing on family, village, or ethnic group, rather than a grid-based design that can be costly and inefficient, and can undermine social networks and safety objectives.
  • Latrines
    • Although water requirements often determine site selection, sanitation requirements can dictate the site layout. If latrines are used, there should be at least one for every 20 persons. They should be located no less than 6 m, and no further than 50 m, from any house. If latrines are too far away, they will not be used. Sufficient space must be provided for replacement latrines. If communal latrines are unavoidable, they should be accessible by road to facilitate maintenance. To avoid contaminating water sources, latrines should have an effective drainage system that is easy to repair, both for rainwater and wastewater. Latrines should be located at a minimum distance of 30 m from water sources.
  • Water Distribution
    • Where possible, the maximum distance between any house and a water distribution point should be no more than 500 m or a few minutes’ walk. Water will often be pumped from the source to an elevated point to allow gravity-fed distribution. Planning of the site should take this into account.
  • Roads and Pathways
    • The site should be accessible from other sites and contain all-weather roads and pathways connecting the various areas and facilities. Roads should be built above flood level and have adequate drainage. If significant vehicle traffic will occur on the site, it should be separated from foot traffic.
  • Firebreaks
    • Within a DP camp, build a firebreak (an area with no buildings) 50 m wide approximately every 300 m of building area. This area can be used to grow vegetables or for recreation. If space allows, the distance between individual buildings should be great enough to prevent collapsing burning buildings from touching adjacent buildings. The direction of the prevailing wind should be a consideration.
  • Administrative and Community Services
    • At the onset of an emergency, it may be difficult to foresee all the administrative and community services likely to be required. Underestimation of the space required for future communal needs is a common problem in camps of limited area. Therefore, where adequate space is available, free areas must be allocated for future expansion of these services. The following lists indicate administrative and community services that are often required.
  • Likely to be centralized:
  • Likely to be decentralized:

TOC: Information on Populations at Risk

Last updated: May 18, 2017


* When formatting your citation, note that all book, journal, and database titles should be italicized* Article titles in AMA citation format should be in sentence-case
TY - ELEC T1 - F. Shelter and Settlements ID - 502061 Y1 - 2017/05/18/ BT - Field Operations Guide UR - https://relief.unboundmedicine.com/relief/view/Field-Operations-Guide/502061/all/F__Shelter_and_Settlements DB - Relief Central DP - Unbound Medicine ER -