Shelters for post-disaster victims



Re-planning, remaking, and rebuilding of disaster areas into safer, smarter, sustainable communities and cities is a continuous process, not an end product. It begins immediately after a disaster until a stronger, more permanent shelter is built. This is one of the crucial topics addressed on December 30, where a myriad of architects, planners, engineers, government officials, professors, scientists, management experts, businessmen, professionals, volunteers, religious groups, media men, and various organizations gathered at the SGV Conference Hall at the Asian Institute of Management to partake and propose solutions in the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the affected areas in the Visayas region.

The Planning, Architecture, Engineering Charrette and Management forum, attended by more than 400 participants (we only expected only 200 since it was a holiday) from the different local, national, and international professions and industries was spearheaded by Secretary for Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery (PARR) Panfilo Lacson, Undersecretary Danny Antonio and myself. In the forum, Lacson stressed the need towards a paradigm shift towards the ‘new normal,’ where better and safer standards for designing and constructing buildings, planning, zoning, and relocation of certain public and private infrastructure need to be identified.

Plan for permanent from the start
Whenever you design a house, you should design a house that you are willing to put your family in. For post-disaster victims, we must design and build a house using the incremental approach, the home would grow as their family or income grows. This means that building components can be added or altered by owners-builders as money, time or materials become available to them. This method accounts for up to 90 percent of residential construction in the developing world, according to the recently released Shelter Report by Habitat for Humanity.

In our past corporate social responsibility projects for calamity-struck victims elsewhere in the world like in Iran, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines where we worked closely with Tzu chi Foundation, we built homes from 21-square-meter to 42-square-meter shelters that are more permanent and can house a family of five. It had three bedrooms, one kitchen, one bathroom, and ample space for a garden for families to grow their own plants. Moreover, the shelters were gender sensitive to give dignity to the female members of the family. Daughters must not share a room with fathers, grandfathers, or brothers.

The Sphere Project and its Handbook are well known for introducing considerations of quality and accountability to humanitarian response and provide general standards for use in any of several response scenarios for displaced and non-displaced populations, including temporary or transitional individual household shelter on original sites, or the return to repaired dwellings; temporary accommodation with host families; and/or temporary communal settlement comprising planned or self-settled camps, collective centers, transit or return centers.

Based on Chapter 4 of The Sphere Project Handbook on the minimum standards in shelter, settlement, and non-food items, the key actions must: Ensure that each affected household has adequate covered living space, enable safe separation and privacy as required between the sexes, different age groups and separate families within a given household as required, ensure that essential household and livelihood activities can be carried out within the covered living space or adjacent area, promote the use of shelter solutions and materials that are familiar to the disaster-affected population (and, where possible, culturally and socially acceptable and environmentally sustainable), and lastly, assess the specific climatic conditions for all seasons to provide optimal thermal comfort, ventilation and protection.

The Shelter and Settlement standards stipulate that each person should be allotted a minimum of 3.5 square meters of living space. The internal floor-to-ceiling height should be a minimum of two meters at the highest point (higher in warmer climates to aid air circulation). The covered area should provide space for the following activities: sleeping, washing and dressing; care of infants, children and the ill or infirm; storage of food, water, household possessions and other key assets; cooking and eating indoors when required; and the common gathering of the household members. The planning of the covered area, in particular the location of openings and subdivisions, should maximize the use of the internal space and any adjacent external area. All members of each affected household should be involved to the maximum extent possible in determining the type of shelter assistance to be provided. The opinions of those groups or individuals who typically have to spend more time within the covered living space and those with specific accessibility needs should be prioritized.

According to the Shelter Report 2012 by Habitat for Humanity that focused on housing cities after a disaster, post-disaster decisions about shelter are “often made quickly against a backdrop of competing urgent demands. Although it is important to provide shelter to as many people as possible as soon as possible, it is equally important to consider the long-term effects on people’s lives and livelihoods, and the economy. How will households survive in a new location? Can provided shelters be maintained or upgraded with local materials and skills over time? Temporary structures have a tendency to remain for much longer than anticipated. The flow of international aid to build housing after a disaster diminishes over time. If there is no long-term plan for permanent housing, temporary housing will become permanent.” In our country, temporary shelters for migrants become permanent informal settlers for years, even decades.

Too many, too often, in post-disaster resettlement and rehabilitation work around the world, the victims are once again victimized when their shelters are constructed without their inputs or consider the average family size of the affected population. We need to understand that the victims are trying to rebuild their lives and communities, thus it is imperative that we plan for permanent structures in mind from the start, and rebuild with disasters in mind.

There are three ingredients towards resilient communities: strong political will, good plan, and good governance. Let’s grab the opportunity to do things better. It is imperative that that first 100 days are spent on finalizing the immediate actions that need to be done, more importantly, the vision plan, concept plan, and framework plan for the affected areas.


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1 Comment

  1. Jacinto O. Javier on

    Subject: Bunkhouse Design for Yolanda Victims


    Bunkhouse design of other countries can always serve as reference point or model in the design process of similar structure for Yolanda victims.

    This adaptation requires a new formulation of performance specifications and may lead to minor revisions of the model or existing foreign design.

    Or it may result in the development of a new design totally different from the rest of the world but dependent on local conditions in terms of social, geographical, geological, climatic, religions, political and historical influences.

    Design activity in developing countries does not mean constructing or developing cheap replicas or versions of existing design of other countries.

    Also, developing countries should not just derive their design standards from other countries but should take its point of reference from its own reality and established priorities. Only that reality and defined priorities could yield good standards of design evaluation.

    Using plywood, timber and nails may not be the best choice as main building materials for the bunkhouses for Yolanda victims. Typhoon is always associated with water and moisture, hence, only alternative materials may be more appropriate to satisfy a good design parameter for the local bunkhouse project.

    A good design criteria would satisfy the functional requirements of the user, be cost effective, practical and constructed the shortest possible time to attain the worthwhile objective of providing temporary shelter for the Yolanda victims.

    In other words, the architectural design and management of bunkhouses should conform to functional requirements and specific needs of Filipinos in general.

    Jacinto O. Javier
    Master of Industrial Design
    PRATT Institute, New York USA