Shelter Centre is a non-governmental organization based in Geneva, that aims to support the humanitarian community by providing emergency shelter guidance and technical personnel in post-conflict or post-natural disaster areas. Its Transitional Shelter Prototypes project has begun to produce its first outputs, in the form of conceptual emergency shelter designs by manufacturers of tents and other temporary shelters. These shelters are designed to meet a set of Transitional Shelter Standards - standards developed in accord with humanitarian workers who have experience delivering emergency shelter - be suitable for stockpiling, and be ready for quick dispatch in the event of an emergency.
Although Shelter Centre stress that, as far as possible, local solutions should be used in any emergency shelter response, in practice there is a need for stockpiling emergency shelters because local construction capacity can be easily overwhelmed by the large scale and urgency of response that is necessary following a disaster. The shelters that humanitarian agencies have typically stockpiled in the past are canvas tents. These are problematic for a number of reasons: They are bulky and heavy, making them difficult and expensive to transport; canvas degrades rapidly under UV radiation; and the tents rot easily, both as they sit in a warehouse and in the field once they are deployed.
There is clearly a need for a better solution. At the same time, while there is little shortage of ideas for emergency shelters, the amount of awareness of field conditions and necessary requirements for these shelters vary widely. The Transitional Shelter Standards [PDF] project aims to provide clear guidance to manufacturers about what is required, so that they can engage productively in research and development. The standards provide guidance related to logistics how big and how heavy the packed shelter should be or how long it should be possible to store it for; physical requirements, such as the need for an average person to be able to stand upright, usable area, ventilation and fire resistance; and social standards, such as the need for privacy. It is hoped that this will allow the development of high quality designs that respond effectively to the needs of displaced people.
To learn more about all six of the conceptual shelter designs that have been submitted to Shelter Centre so for, see Shelter Centre's "Transitional Shelter Prototypes Booklet" (November 2009) [PDF]. The submitted designs are prototypes for testing the Transitional Shelter Standards and are not intended as definitive designs for transitional shelters. The manufacturers are currently testing their designs to investigate how their designs could be adapted to winter conditions. This could be done through incrementally adding flooring, insulation and stoves. Progress on this will be presented at the next Shelter Meeting in December, a forum which brings together governments, donors, UN bodies and NGOs working in emergency shelter. The project should be complete in mid 2011.
Alison Killing is an architect and urbanist based in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
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