Ikea Foundation’s Better Shelter has partnered with UNHCR for safer refugee housing

Ikea Foundation's Better Shelter has partnered with UNHCR for safer refugee housing

Credit: Magnus Bergström/Better Shelter
  • Modular units are safe.
  • Long-term, self-sustaining.
  • Evolving over time.

Better Shelter and the UNHCR recently joined together in providing refugees and displaced people with long-term housing units as global crises mount. But what is a Better Shelter and how does it help?

As part of humanitarian aid, Ikea is teaming up with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to provide 10,000 Better Shelter housing units for refugees and displaced people.

UNHCR recently signed up for 10,000 flat-pack systems for areas in need, like Syria—where many citizens have fled to neighboring countries as the conflict reaches its fifth year without any sign of slowing down.

Shaun Scales, Chief of Shelter and Settlement, at UNHCR believes “the refugee housing unit is an exciting new development in humanitarian shelter and represents a much needed addition to the palette of sheltering options mobilized to assist those in need.”

Scales also said, “Its deployment will ensure dramatic improvement to the lives of many people affected by crises.”

At 188 square feet and created to house up to five people comfortably, the modular shelter is designed to be installed without needing any tools outside of provided utensils. By coming in three parts—Frame, Panels, and Photo Voltaic system—all the items are packaged together in two cardboard boxes.

Included is a solar panel (PV system) to provide electricity to an LED light and a USB hub for mobile phone charging, making the unit self-sustaining. The PV system charges the LED light throughout the day and will allow the light to stay on for four hours per night. Output ranges between 20 to 100 lm. The same system helps charge a mobile phone, a necessity in contacting outside family and government agencies alike.

Assembling the unit takes approximately four people and constructions typically runs between four and eight hours. Placing the parts together involves three steps: foundation, ventilated roof and solar panel, and finally, the walls–which includes door and windows.

All together, the building has 71 pipes and 35 panels. The solar panel on top also offers heat in the evening and reflecting heat during the day.

Better Shelter’s social enterprise mission states the company wishes to “develop and provide innovative housing solutions for the millions of people who lose their homes during conflicts and natural disasters” at a cost-effective level.

And the structure is expected to last three years, so those waiting to return home or be provided aid in another location will have needed time to settle complications. Additionally, if a family moves out, another family will have a unit already in place as global conflicts and crises intensify.

“Putting refugee families and their needs at the heart of this project is a great example of how democratic design can be used for humanitarian value,” said Jonathan Spampinato, the IKEA Foundation’s Head of Strategic Planning and Communications.

And feels the shelter offers “refugee families and children can have a safer place to call home” due to durable and sustainable materials, no matter the element.

Self-sustainability and “entrepreneurial energy” work together with market awareness and discipline means every dollar generated in profit is reinvested within Better Shelter or the Housing for All Foundation, owner of the project and part of the Ikea Foundation.

And it was thanks to the very real humanitarian guideline for the company, UNHCR decided to partner up and purchase the packs for 2015. As conflict rises in the Middle East, the shelters will be absolutely essential in providing space for displaced people.

Many European countries accept refugees and are facing a housing shortage. Perhaps this will be a good solution for nations, like Germany, who has accepted the largest number of Syrian refugees in the past several years.

Better Shelter’s Head of Business Development, Johan Karlsson, notes that “innovation is our strongest driving force” and will eventually help create even more solutions based on the materials provided.

Since the prototype is constantly under monitoring and reevaluation, those living in the units long-term are able to assess what works and what needs to be changed. In fact, more than 40 refugees in Iraq and Ethiopia have helped to improve the structure with feedback.

Another driving forces for the company is the dignity provided to the displaced.

A family doesn’t have to worry about living in a tent that /4/leak or be ripped apart by nature because the Better Shelter unit is weatherproof and has been tested and revised. UNHCR oversaw the prototype testing as well, to make sure displaced people were left with a structure that meets almost every region’s basic needs on a cultural, social, and personal level.

And the units work, as reported by the Australian UNHCR site. Nearly half of the 10.5 million living in global refugee camps are children. Elements like going to the latrine outside of the domicile in the dark are no longer fearful because of IKEA’s innovative light solutions and the Better Shelter’s PV system is easily accessed through the LED light.

Children are also able to finish schoolwork and study after dark, increasing grades and promoting education in the middle of a crisis. And offering help to children was a leading reason for the modular unit in the first place.

Not even mentioning the ability to keep economic opportunities like businesses and work after dark ongoing for those living in the houses. Many activities those living in secure solutions never think about. Or the ability to gather and provide a communal support system.

In a YouTube video, UNHCR Energy Expert Paul McCallion announced the units provide “a kind of life after dark” because of the increased security and light output as the sun sets. Families are able to stay awake without worry of what’s not being seen when attempting to leave the structure.

Better Shelter’s mission statement seems to be coming true as areas look for solutions in global conflicts and disasters. Being economically smart but long-term sustainability means that places like Vanuatu, hit by deadly Cyclone Pam earlier this month, /4/find ways to provide shelters for displaced citizens.

And really, the fact the profits are put back into the company and foundation means more production and opportunities for people in need of secure shelter.


Sources: Australia for UNHCR, Better Shelter, YouTube


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