Refugee responses inspire flat-pack homes
Refugees building a prototype Better Shelter in Hilaweyn Refugee Camp, one of a group of camps in southern Ethiopia close to the border with Somalia, in 2013. More than 630,000 refugees live in camps around Ethiopia
Children playing in front of prototypes in Kobe Refugee Camp, southern Ethiopia, in 2013. Most refugees in Ethiopia are women and children. There are around 250,000 Somali refugees in the country, making this group one of UNHCR’s main concerns in Ethiopia
Two men at the camp assembling one of the flatpack shelters made by Swedish social enterprise Better Shelter. The shelters take four to eight hours to erect. Unlike tents, they are lockable
A family inside a prototype shelter in Kawergosk Refugee Camp, Iraq, in March. Refugee feedback has been crucial to the design process. Better Shelter interviewed former refugee camp residents now living in Sweden. Then it asked refugees about their cultural and environmental concerns during pilots in Ethiopia and Iraq
Shelters being assembled in Macedonia. The shelters cater for the hundreds of asylum seekers who arrive in the country every day and wait in transit to travel to other destinations across Europe
A Better Shelter set up after the April earthquake to host temporary healthcare facilities. Units can be joined together to make larger buildings such as schools and health centres
A graphic of the shelter’s structure. Refugees can choose where they want doors and windows to go. The shelters are made from polypropylene, which is lightweight and insulating, and is better than tent fabric at surviving in strong sunlight
One of the ground anchors that work without guy ropes to keep the shelters in the ground. The shelters were tested before being deployed by setting fire to them, smashing things against them and blowing them with strong winds
Each shelter has a solar lamp and mobile phone charger — vital in off-grid camps. Although the shelters are currently made in Western Europe, Better Shelter is planning regional production in China, Turkey and India or Pakistan
The shelters come flatpacked, with manuals in different languages
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There are more people displaced across the world and in need of shelter and support than at any point since records began, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reported in June. At the end of 2014, the number of people forcibly displaced reached 59.5 million and the average length of displacement for refugees is nearly 20 years. With no end in sight for conflicts such as the war in Syria — almost a quarter of the world’s refugees are Syrian — the need for support, funding and care for those caught up in war and disasters has never been more urgent.
These crises are unfolding against a climate of tightening aid budgets: the past few months have seen UN agencies slash funding for humanitarian programmes. This means innovation in humanitarian relief is increasingly vital. This photo gallery, published ahead of World Humanitarian Day, explores how Swedish social enterprise Better Shelter is working with the IKEA Foundation and UNHCR to put innovative design into action in emergency settings across the world.
Its shelters are designed to be more robust and durable than the tents humanitarian organisations typically supply. Unlike tents, which last for around three to six months, the metal structures and polypropylene panels of the Better Shelter units are designed to withstand harsh sunlight, strong winds and dust storms, and last for at least three years. Feedback from refugees in Ethiopia, Iraq, Macedonia and Nepal now using the Better Shelters is helping to shape how the design evolves.
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