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Newsletter 1 / English version

December 2012



IFRC-SRU mission: To reduce shelter-related vulnerabilities and risks of people affected by disasters through improved humanitarian shelter interventions.

Key areas of IFRCSRU engagement: MAP existing shelter solutions to consolidate and make available the vast body of existing shelter knowledge. Furthermore, to analyze common techniques and practices to identify gaps and needs for technical research and development and address these gaps. INNOVATE and improve existing products by linking up practitioners of the humanitarian sector, academic institutions and private enterprises, to advance on identified research topics. TEST materials and items to develop specifications appropriate for use in humanitarian shelter.




Adequate shelter is classified as one of the basic human needs and is vital to secure the efficacy of humanitarian assistance targeting the other basic needs, as nutrition, medical care, water and sanitation and protection.

The IFRC-Shelter Research Unit (IFRC-SRU) was established by an initiative of the Benelux Red Cross Societies in cooperation with the IFRC Shelter and Settlements Department in Geneva, to build up technical capacities and resources in sheltering within the Red Cross Red Crescent movement, that help improve humanitarian shelter response.

The IFRC-SRU works through projects and defined activities with a timeframe and budget, funded mainly through external donors. The outputs of this research, development and innovation are meant to serve the Red Cross Movement and other humanitarian shelter practitioners in the field to deliver a more cost and time efficient shelter response.

At the same time, sheltering presents the most resource intensive and complex type of intervention, as it spans from emergency intervention through early recovery to reconstruction. In addition to the various technical issues that need to be resolved, for each different context, dealing with land and property rights, institutional barriers and community participation and settlement planning, presents further challenges to address in humanitarian sheltering. Getting all that right is a huge task to achieve that calls for investment in research and capacity-building initiatives contributing to developing and advancing the sector.

The IFRC-SRU’s objective is to improve humanitarian sheltering through researching context-specific material and technical aspects of humanitarian sheltering and settlement solutions. We aim to develop and make available technical information and tools that support informed decision making in the field and to identify or develop improved materials, items and shelter- types that help reduce shelter-related vulnerabilities and risks for people affected by disasters.

At the moment, IFRC-SRU employs three staff with technical backgrounds (Architecture and Civil Engineering) and ample field experience in sheltering. We collaborate with different Universities, research institutes as well as the private sector, to facilitate testing and promote innovation and new development in the sector. With this capacity IFRC-SRU can also provide consultancy expertise to National Societies to develop custom-made solutions for their particular shelter interventions (see adapted shelter kit for Tuareg refugees).

Prospected initiatives Shelter solutions database As part of it’s mission IFRC-SRU is tasked with technical documentation and analysis of shelter solutions in order to build the institutional knowledge in sheltering and to develop tools that can facilitate a more sustainable humanitarian shelter response in future disasters: more time-and cost efficient, adapted to the respective context and better linked to recovery and reconstruction. Through mapping exercises in different countries and consultation with numerous actors in the field, The IFRC-SRU has developed a comprehensive methodology to systematically capture

all relevant technical information of a built structure. This information is presented in the form of a technical Fact sheet (on 2 A4 pages), including key information on cost, implementation time, expected lifespan, and the elements of the structure organized by “layers” for each structural part of the construction, illustrated with Photos. Technical drawings, details, BOQ, will be made available if existing. Each layer presents drop-down menus for most of the fields to be filled (e.g a variety of foundation types) and leaving space for comments and recommendations.

Example for the layer “foundation”

These Factsheets will be made available in a geo-referenced online database with a search engine that allows detailed searches according to the documented criteria for example filtering shelters within a particular country or region, shelters with a particular foundation, structure, material, estimated lifespan, hazard resistance etc. Furthermore the blank fact-sheet can be filled in online, to facilitate for delegates to easily enter new projects from the field. • The shelter solutions database is focused on detailed technical documentation of shelter solutions. It will provide relevant technical information to delegates in

the field as well as initiatives that are looking more at the planning and programming aspects of sheltering. • The shelter solutions database supports quick decision making in the field. It is an easily accessible tool presenting relevant technical data of implemented shelter solutions as well as particular recommendations for hazard-resistant construction. • The shelter solutions database will serve to build institutional knowledge for the Movement. It will serve delegates in the field as reference and source of information for their project. Furthermore it will facilitate more in depth analysis of humanitarian sheltering

practices to identify best practices as well as issues that need to be addressed through technical research and innovation. This Shelter Solutions Database is supported by the Shelter and Settlements Department (SSD) as a project that complements and feeds into other ongoing initiatives coordinated through the SSD, like the annual “shelter project” publications, the documentation of Haiti operations and development of a “tool box” for shelter programming and the “transitional shelters 8 designs” publication. For the first phase of this documentation effort we want to focus on shelter solutions implemented by Red Cross societies in Haiti.

The mapping of shelter solutions in Haiti will serve to document a number of projects relatively easy and set up the online database to test the applications. At present IFRC-SRU is looking for partners interested in financing the development (programming) of the database and data-collection in the field.

Concrete Results Tuareg shelter kit solution Observation The observations showed that the standard tents distributed as a first response, were not very suitable to the context. Due to the material and lack of ventilation, the inside temperature far exceeded the tolerable maximum and failed to provide a minimum of thermal comfort.

Context Due to the crisis and increased tensions in Mali, Burkina Faso has faced a massive influx of refugees since spring 2012. In April 2012, an evaluation mission by the Luxembourg Red Cross identified a large need for shelters and to organize an assistance operation for the affected populations.

The offered surface and settlement setup did not correspond to the needs of the Tuareg culture and family composition. After a few weeks of use, the tents were already completely altered. Their uses were diverted and reallocated by the beneficiaries to other destinations, reusing elements of the tents in their own structures.


3. To better respond to the sun load, the idea is to introduce a new item: the shade net.

Financial impact The family tent referenced in the emergency catalogues costs around 330 USD without transport, which can easily amount to up to double of the cost. The proposed, adapted solution cost only 160 USD all inclusive.

- Good cultural acceptance - Good thermal behavior - Additional space - Longer lifespan of the shelter - Price/square meter far less than the standard family tent - The beneficiaries named the project “(air) conditioned canvas�


In addition, the Harmattan, a hot, dry and dusty wind blows towards the south from the Sahara and affects Burkina between late November and early January.

2. The tarpaulin will be combined with local materials (wood and secco) to make the roof and walls.


The assessment defined the need for 750 shelters for the camps around Djibo in the Soum district.

The affected people are not only confronted with problems finding shelter and food, but are also exposed to climate related hazards. According to the regular weather patterns, they will face some heavy rains hitting an almost impermeable ground, as well as extreme heat.

on a hyperstatic constructive system. Its orientation is directed by cultural principles, the prevailing wind and the sun impact. The lateral walls are movable and allow cross ventilation.

Hypothesis It is the combination of three elements: 1. The traditional Tuareg shelter appears as the most appropriate response. This type of shelter is the transition between the typology of the northern Sahara tents and heavier shelters from Central Africa. It is composed of vegetal mats or sheep and goats skins and is based



The S(p)eedkits Project From : “Humanitarian organisations like the Red Cross have sleeping emergency response units (ERU), which start acting immediately after disaster strikes. Each ERU has a specific function, e.g. medical care, sanitation, energy provision, or water supply. Current equipment solutions will be scanned and bottlenecks with respect to large volumes and/or heavy weight will be identified. Then, novel materials and concepts will be developed to drastically reduce the volume and weight for transportation.

Examples of targeted innovations: lightweight but durable and thermally isolating tent materials, novel concepts for energy supply (biogas from sanitation), textile to line pit latrines, light weight textiles to store and distribute water and smart packaging of materials (matryoshka doll principle, i.e. smaller units in medium ones in larger ones, the smallest transportable by single persons). Settlement kit modules will be developed that can be used for debris recuperation and re-use of damaged facilities. This is crucial as the recent trend in emergency aid is to stimulate as early as possible the self-repair. These kits can be inserted in an affected area (affected city, improvised camp, rural region) to regain as quickly as

possible a ‘temporary’ economic and social life. For reaching the ambitious goals, the project team consists of carefully selected partners. The project will be guided by a humanitarian actor (Red Cross). Further, key partners, experts in material and structural engineering, industrial design and architecture, are added for the design of shelters and their materials and for packaging and logistics. This project will provide kits that can be pre-positioned and mobilized very quickly and easily, that are modular and adaptable, low cost, high-tech in their conception but low-tech in use. These anticipated kits can literally

improve the lives of millions of peoples the first hours, days and weeks after a major disaster and this for years to come.” The IFRC-SRU’s role is to give input from a humanitarian “end user” perspective and to act as “Quality Manager.” Our responsibility is to inform and guide the developments, so that they will be relevant for the field. The IFRC-SRU is also leading the work-package dedicated to the development of new shelter types/systems.

S EEDKITS rapid deployable kits as seeds for self-recovery



It seems to be a widely established practice even in emergency operations to rely on concrete for the anchoring/ foundation of temporary structures. However, using concrete in many contexts presents a number of issues regarding, quality, speed of implementation, cost and last but not least, removal after disassembling the temporary structure. IFRC-SRU aims to explore whether earth anchors can present a costeffective, easy to implement alternative to the commonly used foundations. IFRC-SRU is testing a number of different anchoring systems in different soil types to evaluate their performance. The results will serve to prepare a matrix that will help identify what anchor is most suitable for what ground condition and what load type (size of structure, expected windloads, etc.)

FIXING In most humanitarian shelter operations, tarpaulins are the “first aid,” distributed to cover the immediate needs for sheltering. Some tarps come with eyelets to facilitate fixing and tensioning. However, eyelets also present the weak point where the tarpaulin is most likely to fail from wear and tear.

All results of these testing-exercises, supplementary technical information and related field experiences will be presented during a conference organized in Luxemburg the 9-10 of April 2013. All interested in participating in this conference are kindly asked to contact

A wide range of products exist on the market for fixing and tensioning textile material, but also for metal sheeting or other sheet-materials. However, it seems that these products are not effectively exploited for sheltering. What fixings are cost-effective and present adequate solutions to securely and easily fasten a tarpaulin, other fabrics and sheet materials (e.g. shade-nets) used in humanitarian sheltering? IFRC-SRU is testing a number of different fixing systems/items with regard to performance, easy use, and cost, to evaluate which products can be relevant for humanitarian sheltering.

Contacts Cecilia Braedt, SRU Coordinator Vincent Virgo, SRU Research Officer IFRC - SRU Cité Henri Dunant 10, L-8095 Bertrange Tél. : 27 55 - 8902 Supported by the BENELUX Red Cross Societies

Graphic design:

ANCHORING A good anchoring to the ground is essential for the safety and stability of any kind of light structure. That means not only for tents and transitional shelters, but also for water towers, radio antennas, containers, etc. The potential of this simple element is huge. The aim of the study is to identify high-tech systems for low-tech and efficient use, to secure people and goods.

IFRC-SRU Newsletter 1 English  
IFRC-SRU Newsletter 1 English  

WHO ARE WE AND WHAT DO WE DO?. December 2012