What we do in shelter

One housing sector approach

The Red Cross Movement is involved since decades in providing shelter to the disaster affected. These assistance methods vary greatly depending on the contexts, type of disaster, local capacities, scale and resources. The goal of humanitarian shelter solutions provided in the aftermath of a disaster, are to be life-saving but also to set the path for sustainable reconstruction. The emergency or relief phase, as outlined below, should be instrumental to orient the recovery phase, and integrate risk reduction as a key aspect of reducing housing vulnerabilities – the one housing sector approach. To achieve this, people’s needs and preferences are driving the process, as the main objective is to build safer and more resilient communities.

Shelter relief

Following a disaster, shelter activities immediately focuses on saving lives. This is particularly urgent where the affected people are exposed to harsh climatic conditions such as extreme cold or heat.

Rapid shelter solutions include tents and shelter kits, or materials to build or repair homes. Alternatively, temporary accommodation in public buildings or with host families will be supported.

Beyond survival, the key considerations are:

  • providing protection from the climate
  • ensuring privacy and dignity
  • providing personal safety and security

Shelter assistance needs to be flexible and appropriate to the context, it needs to take the type of damage caused by the disaster into account and consider what is required to complement existing or damaged homes and structures. Additional important factors are social and climatic conditions and the scale of the disaster.

Focus on local solutions

Assistance can range from tents, tools and materials to financial support for either the affected people or their host families. In many situations the construction of transitional shelters made out of locally available materials using familiar building techniques is the best option since these can be improved by the disaster survivors themselves over time or be re-used in the construction of permanent homes. The funds invested in reconstruction programmes need to result in new income generating activities, which favours the local economy and development. The overarching goal is to promote local building cultures to improve the impact and efficiency of housing programmes.

Shelter recovery and settlement planning

Most people who have lost their homes through a disaster want to repair or rebuilt their homes as soon as possible. Many start the reconstruction process immediately after a disaster, whenever circumstances and resources permit. Shelter assistance provided by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) recognises this, and where appropriate prioritises the provision of materials, tools, cash and technical assistance to support the process. This is also known as the people-driven or owner-driven approach to housing and settlements reconstruction.

Successful shelter repair and construction has to go hand in hand with finding solutions for a number of other issues such as water and sanitation, fuel for cooking and heating, waste management and settlement planning. At the same time communal facilities such as schools, play areas and health clinics have to be available to affected people.

Post disaster reconstruction activities provide opportunities for men and women to learn new skills related to construction, planning and related issues such as managing natural environmental resources and local project management.

Shelter disaster preparedness and risk reduction

For many people living along riverbanks or the sea, on mountain slopes or in poorly built neighbourhoods, the risk of flooding, earthquakes and other hazards constantly threaten their lives. In disaster prone areas, the IFRC works with communities and authorities to identify shelter and settlement risks and vulnerabilities with the goal of preparing for and minimising the potential impact of disasters. The ability of vulnerable households to build safer homes can be improved by introducing disaster resistant technologies, raising awareness of the local risks and hazards explaining to vulnerable communities how they can manage these risks better. In order to achieve this the IFRC has developed and promoted a tool named PASSA (Participatory Approach for Safe Shelter Awareness).

A special focus and interest, over the past few years, has been on Urban Risk and improving our approach to responding to disasters in urban areas. This aspect is complemented by advocacy work to ensure equitable reconstruction policies, that include addressing regulatory barriers, land and property aspects and the right to adequate housing.

Public buildings and community infrastructure

Disasters result in damage and destruction to public buildings such as hospitals, health clinics, schools and community centres. The IFRC has a long history of repairing such buildings in collaboration with the public authorities, and has developed the expertise to support and manage such activities.