22 January 2012

Using steel for humanitarian sheltering: current options and innovation, by Kaat Boon, Co-host Conference, IFRC SRU

The IFRC Shelter Research Unit (IFRC SRU) was briefly introduced. It was formed in 2010 to support improvement of technical and material aspects of sheltering. The IFRC SRU maps, innovates and interacts, focusing on four main project areas; scientific research, emergency items, localized solutions and documentation.
A double knowledge gap led to the IFRC SRU deciding to organise this conference. The one single handbook or guideline on steel sheltering does not exist. Secondly, hardly ever does one specific material give shape to the discussion around sheltering. The gap was matched with a clear interest from the academic, private and humanitarian worlds. Kaat proceeded by introducing the scoping study, which was an attempt to lay open the current use of steel in humanitarian sheltering as basis for the discussions during and after the conference.
A final topic addressed was innovation, highlighted with an example from Bangladesh. The impossibility of commanding innovations through rigid linear processes was recognized. Two main category distinctions - “to be distributed” versus ‘humanitarian infrastructure’ and ‘pre-position(able)’ versus ‘local(ised) solutions’ - were presented as a frame of thought that can steer R&D efforts by non humanitarian partners. The second distinction was elaborated as a tension between 1) the need for standardized products versus context specific needs and 2) decisions made by disaster response experts versus decision making steered by local community, or different balances thereof.

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