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Temporary Shelter for Disaster Relief

Shelter is necessary for protection from biological, thermal, kinetic and elemental forces of the environment. Securing shelter can be especially difficult for the impoverished and marginalized individuals. This difficulty may be compounded by natural and man-made disaster. Finding acceptable, accessible and affordable methods of securing shelter during times of disaster for the marginalized and impoverished would improve the quality of life and empower the beneficiaries to survive disaster and reclaim their lives.



Context within Nora

Relationship to Needs

Following the critically and immediately important needs of air, water and food, shelter complements clothing as an essential security against the harshness of the natural world and the threat it poses to human life (with implications for health).  Shelter is all but guaranteed in affluent states and among the wealthy, but for the poor securing shelter is exceedingly difficult.  The stress of this scarcity often pressures the poor to find solutions including but not limited to exploiting limited and nonrenewable resources to fashion their own shelters. Shortage of shelters often results in more people being accommodated in each existing shelter. This increase in crowding decreases privacy while increasing the incidence of disease and health risks. The loss and deprivation of shelter is likely to leave people in a desperate mode of survival that precludes most types of learning and self-expression until the need has been satisfied and their security ensured. People's livelihoods may also be threatened if they have no shelter, either because their livelihood is based in activities done in the house, or because their employers expect them to have a permanent address.

Relationship to Resources

Disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, volcanoes, and floods generally have broad and long lasting impacts on the resources needed to build shelters, which can be classified under physical, human-made assets (such things as tools, bricks, mortar, wooden beams, roof tiles etc.), as well as knowledge about construction (the people knowledgeable about good construction may be overtaxed). The ability to bring in such resources from outside may also be compromised.

The large scale loss of organization and shelter a disaster may inflict on a community may create disorder in the human waste and removal mechanisms of the community which would contribute to lower overall health and wellbeing as well as a general degradation of the land and water resources within the built environment of cities and towns.

Relationship to Organizational Forms

Individuals can take steps to understand disaster risks of a region and plan accordingly (self-provisioning). Community solidarity and committed services and sales play a role where non-governmental organizations, local government, and specialized government agencies work together to proactively reduce exposure and vulnerability to risks associated with environmental disasters. For example, if Rio de Janeiro created a transportation system that allowed slum dwellers to access costal fish markets without living on the coast, they would not have to live densely packed on the steep mountains near the ocean and would be at less risk associated with landslides. Organizing locally and adopting building techniques in Haiti to construct hurricane-resistant homes would help the region better mitigate the damage of the next disaster.

Non-Governmental-Organizations or NGOs contributed nearly $5.5 billion for relief efforts following the 2004 tsunami that killed nearly 230,000 people across the Indian Ocean. The various organizations often failed to communicate and subdivided the serviced area into what were functionally aid fiefs in which none of the organizations could operate very effectively. Creating effective networks among the organizations involved would help address such recurrent problems.

Local and state legal systems often disenfranchise the poor increasing the challenge of reconstruction. Often aid organizations were unable to install permanent homes because residents lost most legal documentation of property ownership in the storm, or were renters.


Understanding Patterns of Abundance and Scarcity

Scarcity arises from the fact that those with the least access to resources, in the areas with the poorest infrastructure to support the movement of building resources, have the least representation politically and are exposed to the highest disaster risk. These problems are enhanced by the wholesale destruction of accessible resources, and infrastructure.  These disasters generally leave behind large labor forces that can be an asset in reconstruction, if they are so employed.

When a major disaster strikes in a region and country with few resources for reconstruction, disaster relief from abroad may pour in. While such humanitarian response reflects a healthy willingness to help, and can do much to help reconstruct an area, it also presents major challenges in that the helpers from abroad may not be familiar with the local culture and language, and there may be a lack of coordination among the many aid agencies from different countries. This may result in aid being given where it is not need (or duplicating aid that has already bee given), while neglecting some of the people who need help. Aid may also be focused on short-term issues, while neglecting longer-term needs.

Given the challenges and scarcity the best approach is to plan and prepare for a disaster before it happens and thus minimize the losses that are likely to result.  Additionally more organized relief efforts by international NGOs could apply resources more sensibly and restore order more readily.

Such organization was utilized by the Indonesian region of Aceh. Their president formed the BRR (reconstruction and rehabilitation agency) to better coordinate and accelerate the reconstruction following the 2004 tsunami. By the end of 2005, this organization successfully established 30,000 houses (over half the houses constructed in Indonesia during this time.)

One challenge of disaster shelter is that the shelter must be satisfactory to the user, easy to construct and minimally taxing on nonrenewable resources, while being affordable to the extremely poor. Additionally the shelter should be easy to disassemble when it has been replaced by more permanent housing. The Japanese architect Shigeru Ban proposed and implemented the concept of paper-based shelters for disaster relief attracted by the low cost, recyclable, low-tech and replaceable nature of the building material as well as the availability of the material globally. His projects have been implemented in Japan following the Kobe earthquake, and in Turkey and Rwanda to accommodate refugees. The structures are characterized by possessing grid shells of paper tubes, and foundations of soft drink crates. (Ted Talks. Emergency Shelters Made from Paper 5:54).


Approaches to creating greater Abundance

Planning/community development to

  • reduce exposure to environmental risks
  • reduce vulnerability to disastrous events
  • enhance resilience after a disaster

Inclusion of renters as major stakeholders in planning for disaster

Coordination/networking among disaster relief agencies and governments

Ensuring participation of affected communities in post-disaster decision-making

Provision of shelters after a disaster


Links and Stories


Noji, Eric. The Public Health Consequences of Disasters. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.


Johnson, Lizarralde, Davidson. 2005. A Systems View of Temporary Housing Projects in Post-Disaster Reconstruction. Taylor&Francis.

Johnson, Cassidy. 2007. Strategic Planning for Post-Disaster Temporary Housing. Disasters 31: 435-458.

Morris, Wood.  2003. The Allocation of Natural Disaster Relief Funds: Hurricane Mitch in Honduras. Elsevier.

Palakudiyil, Tom. "Hope for the Future, Learning From Aceh." Humanitarian Practice Network. Humanitarian Policy Group, n.d. Web.

Shaw, Goda. 2004. From Disaster to Sustainable Civil Society: The Kobe Experience. Wiley Online.

Shigeru Ban.  2013. Emergency Shelters Made From Paper. Ted Talks.

Srour, Ramy. "Keeping the Philippines from Becoming Another Haiti." Inter Press Service. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2013.

Sullivan, Tim. "Successes and Failure." N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2013.

Tsai, Chen, Chiang, Lin. 1984. Application of Geographic Information System to the Allocation of Disaster Shelters Via Fuzzy Model.

Waring, Brown. 2005. The Threat of Communicable Diseases Following Natural Disasters: A Public Health Response. Elsevier.

Wright, Tom. "UN Failed to Coordinate Tsunami Relief, Red Cross Report Says." The New York Times. N.p., n.d. Web.





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