‘Gimme Shelter’ for Refugees

Housing Technology Start-Up, New Story – 3D Printed House

[This article was originally published on September 28, 2015. DSI updates and republishes this article annually to draw attention to the plight of refugees worldwide.]

Oh, a storm is threat’ning, My very life today, If I don’t get some shelter, Oh yeah, I’m gonna fade away

War, children, it’s just a shot away, It’s just a shot away, War, children, it’s just a shot away, It’s just a shot away 

1969, Rolling Stones, ‘Gimme Shelter’, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, ‘Let it Bleed’ album

This is now.

Over 30,000 Palestinians gathered along Gaza’s border with Israel on Friday, March 30th, to vent their pent-up frustration in a protest that quickly turned violent. Israeli forces reportedly killing 15 at the border fence. In the course of Israel’s creation in 1948 and its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, more than half the Arabs living in pre-1948 Palestine are thought to have been forcibly displaced. Today, some 5 million Palestine refugees are registered with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Palestinians represent one of the oldest refugee populations on earth.

South Sudan has suffered years of civil war in the process of becoming a nation in 2011, leaving it one of the poorest countries in the world. South Sudan cannot provide its people the basics of adequate healthcare, education, and income opportunities. Children are paying the price with their lives. More than 5.7 million South Sudanese cannot feed themselves, and food insecurity continues to rise, poised to reach six million in 2018. Nearly four million people are displaced because of conflict and hunger, including two million who have fled to neighboring countries since December 2013. Uganda hosts more than one million refugees from South Sudan; 60 percent of the displaced are children.

The numbers blur.

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), there are over 65 million “refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people around the world” (forcibly displaced people). Of these people over 50 percent originate in Afghanistan, Somalia and Syria. The top refugee hosting countries are Turkey at 2.9 million, Pakistan at 1.4 million, Lebanon at 1 million, Iran at 1 million, and Ethiopia at .8 million. Over 1.3 million asylum-seekers made claims in the European Union in 2015, with perhaps another 1 million claims in 2016.

Additionally, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that about 795 million people of the 7.3 billion people in the world, or one in nine, were suffering from chronic undernourishment in 2014-2016.

“It is argued that a safely built environment, including adequate housing conditions, is one of the most elemental human needs. Nonetheless, around one billion (one-sixth) of the world’s population currently live in slums and squatters and a large proportion of refugees reside in inadequate shelters.” This statement was made in “Harboring illnesses: On the association between disease and living conditions in a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon” in the International Journal of Environmental Health Research.

Forcibly displaced people are but the tip of the iceberg. A most important first step in helping forcibly refugees worldwide is providing shelter – a sense of place, a roof over their heads, a floor under their feet, privacy, and ultimately human dignity. This is not complicated. This is where the rubber meets the road.

These truths are self evident.

7.4 billion people : 2 billion without clean water : 1 billion living in slums : 800 million starving : 65.5 million forcibly displaced : 22.5 million refugees

These are a few ‘Gimme Shelter’ creative resources meeting this need worldwide:

New Story, a construction technologies startup, and a housing nonprofit ICON have recently launched a 3D printed house. Their structure is 650 square feet and includes a living room, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and shaded porch. This house can be assembled in less than 24 hours and initial versions cost less than $10,000. Equivalent homes built in developing countries could cost as little as $4,000 each. Similar 3D printing housing structures have been demonstrated in Russia, Dubai, and Amsterdam, and elsewhere, but New Story is the first permitted 3D printed home to go up in the US.

ICON’s large overhead armature printer, Vulcan, pours a concrete-based slurry into a 3D software-directed pattern. Put down one layer at a time, the entire structure “grows” from the ground up. The printer consists of an axis set on tracks, giving it a flexible and virtually unlimited 3D print area.

IKEA A/S has employed its extensive flat-pack logistics skill sets to designing a comfortable, solar-powered shelter that can provide emergency housing for natural disaster victims and refugees. The IKEA flat-pack homes were developed in coordination with the IKEA Foundation and the UNHCHR.

IKEA’s flat-packed, lightweight plastic shelters are easily assembled on any flat site. The 188 square foot hut is twice the size of a ‘regulation’ refugee tent and can be assembled in four hours. Five people can sleep comfortably inside. These homes have solar paneled roofing, providing on-site electricity. The roof also helps to deflect solar energy by 70%, keeping the interior cooler during the day and warmer at night. UNHCR has already ordered thousands of these shelters to house refugee families in Greece, Iraq, Serbia, Chad and Djibouti. IKEA shelters cost between $1,150 and $1,500 depending upon configuration.

IKEA Flat-Pack Refugee Shelters

The Pritzker Prize 2014 winner Shigeru Ban has been focusing on shelters for twenty years via his Voluntary Architects’ Network. Ban is known for his innovative work with paper; particularly recycled cardboard tubes used to quickly and efficiently house disaster victims. They developed temporary shelters after the April 2015 Nepal earthquake (Gorkha earthquake) killed more than 9,000 people, injured more than 23,000, and destroyed 500,000 homes. Their work has evolved further into shelters that utilize reclaimed rubble and fiberglass panels.

Global Village Shelter, LLC, has deployed thousands of its flat-packed, durable housing units to Pakistan, Honduras, Guatemala, Grenada, and New Orleans – as well as to MoMA’s permanent collection. Its architects, Dan and Mia Ferrara, also created an innovative modular factory that can be shipped anywhere for on-site production, lowering each unit’s $2,500 price tag down to roughly $1000.

Ferrara said, “Our system is the only system that is low cost, meets all international standards, can be easily shipped in containers, provides jobs for set up and manufacturing and works with local entrepreneurs”. The company has factories in Los Angeles and Mexico and is seeking funding to produce their shelters on a broad scale.

Highly respected architect, designer, and artist Abeer Seikaly has created unique ecological weaved tents to provide homes for refugees in war-torn areas and victims of natural disasters. Seikaly’s eloquent design won the Lexus Design Award in 2013, but the tent is still at a prototype stage.

Artist Abeer Seikaly unique ecological weaved tents

More than a tent, his creation combines mobility and comfort (heat, storage, running water and electricity) using nature as a guide. The double-layer fabric allows the tent to be closed against the cold and rain when needed while draining or collecting rain water. When the weather is hot, the tent opens up to let cool air in and hot air out. A water tank at the peak can be used to shower and the energy from the sun is stored in a battery providing renewable electricity.

Seikaly said of his shelter, “In this space, the refugees find a place to pause from their turbulent worlds, a place to weave the tapestry of their new lives. They weave their shelter into home.”

By definition most refugee camps use various tent shelters. Tents lack proper flooring. Sleeping on cold ground can cause serious health problems, and worst, flash-flooding can cause further displacement. This issue inspired Scott Austin Key and Sam Brisendine, co-founders of Houston-based Good Works Studio, to create Emergency Floor, a sustainable, affordable solution that can deployed to camps across the globe. Having such a quick-fix during the initial camp set-up phase may reduce flooding issues and illnesses.

Turkey has taken the brunt of the Syrian refugee crisis, coping with 2.9 million displaced Syrians. They have built one of the most orderly and efficient refugee camps in the world, known as the Republic of Turkey Prime Ministry Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency’s Kilis Oncupinar Accommodation Facility.

The camp is composed of 2,053 identical shipping containers adapted into living quarters spread out in neat rows housing over 14,000 people. There are paved passageways. There are schools and stores. There is a hospital. There are police and metal detectors. The camp is relatively safe.

Turkey has built at least six identical camps along its border with Syria. There are no tents or few of the problems typical for such temporary facilities – garbage, raw sewage, and muddy narrow passageways. The Turks have undertaken this approach in part for for political reasons of course, as other nations contribute billions to fund these camps. But what country would not have political and economic problems dealing with two million refugees?

By contrast the world’s largest refugee camps are at Dadaab, near the Somalia border. Kenya and Somalia have tolerated the UNHCR base housing 350,000 people in five camps that cover 20 square miles. The Dadaab camps were constructed in the early 1990s; first settled by refugees of the civil war in Somalia. As the population expanded, UNHCR contacted German architect Werner Shellenberg who drew the original design for Dagahaley Camp and Swedish architect Per Iwansson who designed and initiated the creation of Hagadera camp.

Refugee shelters can be plastic tarps, tents, shipping containers or innovative low-cost design solutions. But shelter solutions of necessity simply highlight the reality of providing security to forcibly displaced people across the world.

A camp is still a camp. Shelters are temporary. Nobody wants to stay there. Nobody wants to leave their home. Nobody wants their family split up. Everyone wants to go home. No one knows when. But the immediate need is to shelter your fellow human beings. As the Rolling Stones rocked long ago, ‘Gimme Shelter.’

Richard L. Wottrich, CEO & Senior Consultant, International Services