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Shelter – Now. Then. And Later.

April 30, 2015

Family-tent-rural570-300x200The average American gets nine hours of sleep a night. Most of those Americans sleep in a home with a roof, and have a pillow, a mattress, and some sort of cover.

But what does sleep look like for residents of Kathmandu?

Over the weekend, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck the capital city of Nepal. More than 5,000 deaths have been confirmed (a figure that is expected to rise dramatically), and upwards of 8 million Nepalese have been affected by the quake. Shelter is already presenting itself as a serious problem and, based on what we have learned from other disasters, particularly earthquakes, will continue to be a major problem.

Shelter Now

The government of Nepal reports that over 70,000 homes have been destroyed. Given that relief efforts have not yet reached more rural and remote villages, that figure is expected to rise. As of 2011, the average household size in Nepal was 4.7 – which means that upward of 329,000 individuals have been rendered homeless. Of the 8 million people affected by the quake, 2.8 million are described as displaced from their homes, with many of those individuals sleeping outdoors out of fear that continued aftershocks will destroy their weakened residences. What's more, the affected region has been hit with what has been described as "relentless rain," putting many people in a precariously vulnerable position.

The recently released UN Flash Appeal covering the time period from now until the end of July calls for $50 million to provide shelter and non-food items to those who have been displaced, as well as an additional $5 million for camp management.

Shelter Then

Over the course of the next few weeks, international nongovernmental organizations (iNGOs), the government of Nepal, and multilateral organizations engaged in the shelter cluster will distribute tents and start to build temporary/semi-permanent shelters for displaced persons. Once the aftershocks subside, rubble will be cleared and land will be prepared for rebuilding.

When thinking about shelter in the months ahead, it is important to factor in the climate of Nepal – a country with brutal weather. Temperatures can range from 110 degrees in summer to freezing cold, winters are snowy, and there's plenty of rainfall in between – all the more reason shelter is of critical importance to quake-affected Nepalese. Joel Charny, vice-president of humanitarian policy and practice at InterAction, told me that "whatever shelter solution gets developed has to be a solid, resilience-based solution."

Shelter Later

Charny indicated that the "ideal" solution eighteen months from now is to have all displaced persons back in some sort of permanent shelter. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the earthquake in Haiti, the shelter response fell far, far short of that goal. Either because of issues of land tenure or because the semi-permanent solution implemented was semi-adequate, many of the people affected by Katrina and the Haiti earthquake were displaced for up to five years or remain in semi-permanent shelter. Charny said that until we know the full scale of the damage in Nepal and how many houses have been destroyed, it is difficult to estimate whether the international aid community will be able to deliver a permanent shelter solution to all the people who have been displaced. On a more upbeat note, if there is enough local labor and materials available, the only obstacle to achieving that goal will be financing.

The philanthropic community will need to be part of the permanent shelter solution for the foreseeable future. There are iNGOs that excel in this area. There are standards and approaches grounded in science, all of which are designed to restore a sense of normalcy to the lives of people who have been displaced – sooner rather than later, if possible. But rebuilding permanent shelter for those who have been displaced will not happen without outside assistance. So, in closing, I'd like to share an excerpt from a report I read earlier this week, Responding to Earthquakes 2008: Learning From Earthquake Relief and Recovery Operations. The report paints a compelling picture of the economic impact of permanent shelter and is worth keeping in mind as your foundation begins to formulate a response to the disaster in Nepal:

Seven Economic Impacts of Shelter

  1. Income increases faster for families provided with shelter than for others.
  2. Emergency shelter investment generates an economic payback conservatively valued at 3 to 8 times the value of the initial investment.
  3. Shelter has a positive economic return for the poorest and most vulnerable, even in the short term.
  4. Shelter benefits last well beyond the recovery period.
  5. Shelter benefits are larger after a year or two because of forward linkages.
  6. Shelter has a vital but under-appreciated role as capital for development.
  7. Beyond capital, but linked to it, shelter also has an under-appreciated role as a platform for income gains.

Regine A. Webster is vice president of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy. She can be reached at regine.webster@disasterphilanthropy.org. This post originally appeared on the Center for Disaster Philanthropy blog and is republished here with CDP's permission.

(Photo courtesy of Plan International USA)


Sources for this blog include:

  1. Joel Charny, InterAction
  2. acaps.org
  3. UN Flash Appeal for Nepal
  4. Responding to earthquakes 2008: Learning from earthquake relief and recovery operations http://www.alnap.org/resource/5239.aspx
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Quote of the Week

  • "[L]et me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance...."

    — Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States

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