Bath University takes on project to design “dignified” refugee shelters

By Sarah Dawood

Refugee camp near Mauritania, north west Africa. Photo © Hugh Lunnon.

A team of researchers at Bath University are looking to redesign refugee shelters so that they can withstand extreme temperatures and provide more “privacy, comfort and dignity” for their occupants.

The interdisciplinary team has embarked on the Healthy Housing for the Displaced project, which will look at the temperature, air quality and social conditions of people living in refugee camps around the world.

“Poorly-insulated” and non-private shelters

The team says that current shelters can create problems for camp inhabitants, which in turn “increases the demands upon humanitarian organisations”.

“Health can be undermined when poorly-insulated shelters fail to mediate extremes of temperature, and design that doesn’t meet the need for privacy and security can harm psychosocial wellbeing,” it says.

Will take refugees’ opinions into consideration

It will speak with those living in camps, and aid organisations like the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as part of research.

Dr Jason Hart, senior lecturer in Anthropology of Development at the University of Bath, says that the project will incorporate the “views and aspirations of refugees themselves” to create more suitable housing.

He says: “I have witnessed first-hand the daily struggles of displaced people to lead dignified lives in difficult conditions, and decent housing can make an immense difference.”

New shelter concepts will be designed using a combination of materials that mean they “naturally stay warm in winter and cool in summer”, according to the research team.

Twenty design concepts will be created

Twenty shelter designs will be created initially, then six will be constructed in the UK to test the length of time they take to build, and heat-tested in climate chambers within Bath University.

The best designs will then be sent to Jordan for testing in real-life conditions, with feedback gathered from those living in camps and aid agencies.

Shelters will also be sent for testing in three other countries to test different environmental and social conditions, with current possibilities being Thailand, Turkey and Tanzania.

Long-term rather than short-term

A manual will be designed and distributed to the UNHCR and other aid agencies, which will show them how to construct the shelters and inform them of their individual benefits.

The final shelter designs aim to be permanent rather than temporary, in response to current “high levels of human displacement”, says the team.

“Conflicts such as in Syria have led to the creative of a new generation of refugee camps,” it says. “While camps were originally seen as a short-term solution, many across the world exist for years and even decades.”

The research project has received £1.5 million funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and will run until 2020.

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