accessibility & help

What is shelter?

People working on a shelter project in Bangladesh© InfoWhat is shelter?

Say the word “shelter” and what comes to mind is probably a temporary structure made of tarpaulin and a few planks. However, as a tool for disaster response and recovery, shelter work covers everything from distributing tents to building the foundations of a permanent home. It addresses the whole environment in which people live, from walls and windows right through to drainage systems and roads.

Our shelter recovery programme builds upon the work we do immediately following a disaster. When responding to an earthquake, conflict or other crisis, relief work obviously focuses on providing emergency shelter. But, by the recovery stage, survivors need longer term solutions.

The Red Cross helps people to minimise damage from future disasters and build transitional or permanent shelters which will meet their needs.

Preparing for future disasters

We help communities identify future risks and develop ways to reduce these risks through improved building techniques and practices. When the threats faced by different communities vary so greatly, no-one knows the problems – and the solutions - better than the inhabitants themselves.

In a process facilitated by the Red Cross, the community looks at major hazards and past events to understand how things may continue to change in the future. They consider the frequency and impact of events such as floods, strong winds, earthquakes or fires, and consider where in the community problems are most likely to occur.

Our approach then helps the community look at possible solutions and ways to put these into practice. They will also consider potential obstacles, and think about how changes will be measured and monitored.

Because members of the community have chosen the course of action, there is a sense of collective responsibility for the project. By ensuring that anybody – regardless of age, sex, social class or education – can participate, the process empowers people and promotes respect for other members of the group.

Watch a video about a participatory approach to shelter

Rebuilding homes

How a shelter project is carried out will depend upon the situation. Often the work can contribute to rebuilding livelihoods by employing local people in the construction. In other situations, hiring a building contractor may be the solution.

In our shelter programmes, the most common approach is to give help directly to families for the rebuilding of their damaged homes. This method of direct assistance allows people to be at the centre of the housing process, rather than to simply receive a product. We empower people by allowing them to prioritise their own needs and build their knowledge of safe construction techniques.

We supply the family with the cash to build their home, or in some cases with the materials. Potential loss of income during the construction period is taken into account and we ensure that the family can still meet their basic needs. When a family is given the money for rebuilding, it is paid into an account jointly owned by the husband and the wife to ensure shared ownership.

We provide technical support throughout the process to ensure that the house is safe, good quality and built to resist damage from future disasters. Because the grant is paid in instalments, construction experts can check that the house is up to standard and within budget at each stage.

Read how the Bangladesh shelter programme helped Monowara rebuild her home

Related Tags:


Recovery stories

Arriving in Haiti two months after the earthquake, Mark South was prepared for the worst.

After surviving the a disaster, Sharon learned first aid - and was soon putting her skills to good use.