Shelter is a means of ensuring people’s protection by responding to their rights to physical security, health, privacy and dignity. It provides a shield from adverse weather and a space to live and store belongings. Good shelter programmes can provide a family with a place in which to base livelihood activities and promote a sense of security whilst living in a temporary community.


What Is a Shelter in Camp Management?

A shelter is a "habitable covered living space, providing a secure, healthy, living environment with privacy and dignity to the groups, families and individuals residing within it." Tom Corsellis and Antonella Vitale, Transitional Settlement Displaced Populations, p.411.


At the start of an operation, assess all options for sheltering displaced families, including options for sheltering populations outside of camps. If upgrading an existing camp or building, shelter providers and the Camp Management Agency should take time to assess what has already been built by the inhabitants of the camp or settlement. It may be more appropriate to consider repairing existing buildings, renting unoccupied structures or accommodating the displaced with host families. All options considered should have clear advantages and disadvantages to the overall operational objectives. Sound planning for a shelter project entails simultaneously meeting the needs of displaced families whilst mitigating and compensating for the negative impact their presence has on host communities.


Shelter Is More Than a Roof

Remember that the physical components of a shelter programme include not only walls and a roof but also clothing, bedding and cooking sets and other non-food items (NFIs).


Voice From the Field - Shelter in Collective Centres

Immediately after the main displacement of the population in Gonaives, Haiti, following flooding in 2008, some internally displaced persons (IDPs) found refuge in tented sites, but the majority were hosted by friends or families and in larger buildings. A wide variety of buildings were used as collective centres, including hotels, warehouses, church halls and schools.

The needs for individual family dwellings will help to determine the scale and pattern of the camp site or layout of the collective centre. Settlement planning, shelter designs or required upgrades to collective centres must take into consideration the needs of host and displaced communities, the delivery and maintenance of other services, such as food and NFI distribution, other infrastructure and external logistics supplies. Overall, a clear site plan should be developed before starting construction activities or distributing materials. Site planning considerations need to be understood in relation to shelter and how people will live and use space within the camp.


Land Negotiation

The way land has been negotiated and the early relationships that have been developed between the camp population and the host community will also have an impact on the running and management of a camp.


Even if in rare cases, optimally, camps are selected and designed before displaced people arrive. In some countries, the national authorities may have assigned certain buildings as planned collective centres for use as temporary shelter for displaced populations in case of natural disasters, such as cyclone, hurricane, storm and flood shelters.

More frequently, a displaced population will settle themselves in unoccupied buildings or land, before the Camp Management Agency is operational. Depending on the size of a self-settled camp, rather than building new structures, the focus may be on upgrading existing structures and the existing infrastructure, and to meet agreed national or international standards. IDPs can be moved in order to restructure the camp. Safety measures can be implemented to protect people.

The CCCM Cluster recommends the use of the minimum shelter standards as documented by Sphere and the Office of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) for initial guidance. In the majority of instances it may be difficult to reach the agreed standards at the beginning of operations. Attaining optimal standards or living conditions may be a process that develops over time. Although minimum standards and associated indicators are meant to be universal, whether they can be delivered or not will depend much on local and cultural factors.

Shelter activities should be carried out by a specialised shelter service provider, in close collaboration with the Camp Management Agency, the CCCM Cluster/Sector Lead Agency as well as the Shelter Cluster/Sector.


Indicators of Poor Shelter Conditions

Increased rates of Acute Respiratory Infections (ARI), eye infections, and cases of scabies outbreaks are all indicators of poor shelter conditions within a camp. Monitoring health data of several camps can help to identify when regional or national issues are arising.