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The buildings that help rebuild lives and communities

With the increasing impact of climate change the number of natural disasters is growing rapidly. How do we ensure that affected communities can quickly and sustainably recover and rebuild their lives and communities?

Providing shelter for displaced people and families is one of the first critical components of disaster relief. Shelters need to be designed for resilience, rapid construction and deployment, but also crucially able to make use of local skills, labour and materials.

It is with this in mind that CRS (Catholic Relief Services) and BRE (Building Research Establishment) are collaborating to create a demonstration of the techniques and materials that can be used to create an effective humanitarian shelter. How a shelter contributes to the wider humanitarian effort and rebuilding process will also be considered.

BRE Group

CRS has long experience as agency that alleviates suffering and provides assistance to people in need in more than 100 countries. CRS’ relief and development work is accomplished through programs of emergency response, HIV, health, agriculture, education, microfinance and peacebuilding.  BRE is an international building science centre with a 90 year history of research and development covering the built environment, materials technology and climate change resilience. Working with the IFRC, BRE has pioneered the development of QSAND, the self-assessment sustainability tool focused on shelter and settlement reconstruction in the aftermath of natural disasters.

“Our collaboration with BRE is designed to create a focal point for demonstration and research in the provision of humanitarian shelters” says Jamie Richardson, Shelter and Settlements Technical Advisor for CRS.

“The exhibition unit we are creating for the BRE Innovation Park in Watford is a based on the Sphere Standards for shelter building. Sphere is a voluntary initiative from wide range of humanitarian agencies to improve the quality of humanitarian assistance. The unit will, in fact, be an amalgam of various techniques and materials, showing how various vernacular materials such as bamboo, adobe bricks and mud construction can be used in different parts of the world.”

The shelter will cover an area of 17.5 square metres and be designed to be occupied by a family of five. This size unit is typical of the usual minimum space allocation of shelters around the world. It will aim to demonstrate materials and construction techniques, and also be the focal point for a research and demonstration programme on process and non-technical issues. For example, a composting toilet is to be integrated into the shelter structure, to show the linkage with health and sanitation programmes. It will also incorporate features such as the inclusion of inner partitions for privacy and to address the needs of women and children.

“Our aims are to share information with stakeholders and the wider public and media on these issues” says Jamie “It will be part of our outreach to building professionals and materials experts, and act as a stimulus for wider research and understanding on issues such as climate change resilience and sustainability”.

The home of the demonstration unit is the BRE Innovation Park at Watford, which features full-scale demonstration buildings that have been developed by industry partners across the built environment.  These buildings display innovative design, materials and technologies which combine to address the development challenges facing regions across the world. Activities under at the Park include technology demonstration, research, testing, training and dissemination. BRE works closely with a large number of partners from the academia, public and private sectors to shape out activities and ensure that these have a positive impact on the development community.

BRE Group
BREs Innovation Park

“Installing CRS’ demonstration shelter on our Park gives us an opportunity to further collaborate and share our knowledge with the humanitarian sector as well as showcasing the benefits of QSAND” says Yetunde Abdul, QSAND Programme Manager at BRE. “We receive thousands of visitors to our Park ranging from senior Government officials to local schoolchildren. We also can bring in our wider research and demonstration activities that take place on the Park, for example we have recently opened a flood resilient demonstration building and have plans for a ‘Biophilic Office’ on our site that addresses health and wellbeing issues for the indoor environment.”