7 March 2012

Introduction: sheltering process and product

The challenge of the Steel Days Conference was to enhance the common understanding – of humanitarians, academics and producers – of good practices of using steel for sheltering. We had the expertise we needed, tailor made presentations on the subject and an overall productive atmosphere.
But, how much did we advance on the issue of steel for humanitarian sheltering? This conference was a momentum, a step in a process carried by a far larger group of people than just the IFRC SRU team or the participants of the conference. The fact that the starting point of the conference was practical – ‘what do we do today in sheltering’ –, laying open steel sheltering through case studies and R&D efforts, enabled to look at sheltering issues on a less abstract level. Still, although we have advanced on what exactly should be changed, researched and developed to improve steel sheltering, it is mostly the link between process and product aspects that lightened up the steel days.
Jim Kennedy: Even if there were specific presentations on the (literally) nuts and bolts of steel-frame shelter designs, what excited the interest of the participants were all of the bigger-picture questions surrounding shelter responses, no matter what the material: the mandates of humanitarian organizations and national governments; the complexities of land-tenure issues affecting shelter responses; the importance of post-disaster urban-planning, rather than just approaching reconstruction at the single-shelter level; and the realistic roles and responsibilities of the affected populations themselves, especially in urbanized, complex economies.
The standards for qualitative and effective sheltering, as agreed in the Sphere Standards or the Transitional Settlements series, are not optional. However, the variety of solutions they cover is not exhausted and probably never will be. The standards have proven to trigger most discussion when applied to specific disasters, contexts, materials or techniques.
During the conference, some measures of efficiency that are obviously positive for private companies were disputed by humanitarians, some in-depth reflections of academics deemed unworkable. Humanitarians on the other hand could not always pinpoint exactly where the loss in effectiveness occurred and how that could be remedied in the future. The IFRC SRU saw the benefit of organizing the conference exactly on that level; to give these rather common frictions a platform.
Some themes during the conference were recurrent throughout the presentations and the discussions afterwards. We attempted to line them up in the themes which is our record of the conference. It is just our record; we’d rather have it debated than agreed upon. It therefore contains a mixture of fragments of presentations and discussions on the one hand, and more personal thoughts about ways forward.
IFRC SRU.

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