Establishment of the IFRC Shelter Research UnitIn the past two decades the number of natural disasters has doubled and more than 200 million people and their livelihoods have been affected. If we add war and other conflict-related emergencies, there are 100 million homeless people across the globe and around 1.6 billion individuals living in slums and inappropriate housing .The vastness of these numbers, coupled with the geographic, economic and cultural differences of the homeless, pose a complex challenge for actors involved in ‘sheltering’. Sheltering does not just mean the immediate provision of a roof; it is associated with reconstruction of livelihoods and assisting individuals and families to resume ordinary life and establish resilient communities.The Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is probably the largest emergency shelter provider in the world. The role of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies [i] in the provision of shelter began in the 19th century, however, the first major shelter operations overseen by the Federation occurred in 1949 with the Palestinian refugee crisis.In 2009, the Benelux Red Cross Societies (Luxembourg Red Cross [ii], Belgian Red Cross – Flanders [iii], Belgian Red Cross – French Speaking community [iv] and the Netherlands Red Cross [v]) decided to establish the Shelter Research Unit (IFRC SRU) to support the Federation in its role of global shelter cluster  convener in times of natural disasters. The Unit provides technical support to the Movement and other organisations that provide shelter to people affected by disaster.
Main activities of the IFRC SRUThe first responders to any disaster are the people that were affected themselves. Often they are faced with immediate concerns for their safety and health, and need food, fresh water, clothing and blankets. People who have lost their houses, or can’t stay in their houses anymore because of violence, floods or other security risks, seek alternative shelter for the nights to come.Humanitarian agencies subsequently look for the best ways to support the affected people in their own efforts to overcome the disaster. Every disaster is different, and therefore the needs, and the answers to those needs, are always different. Although humanitarian agencies have developed good support approaches in the past, they still struggle too often to come up quickly with the appropriate response.What type of shelter can we offer, how can we support the affected people to build back better, which skills and materials are locally available? These questions can be answered more easily and quickly if we learn from previous disasters, collect and analyze different shelter solutions in a certain context and incorporate new technologies and materials into existing shelter solutions.The IFRC SRU’s mission is to speed up and improve shelter responses by documenting sheltering resources and practices and, from thereon, developing innovative shelter solutions. The interest and knowledge of the academic and private sector is captured to develop more flexible and precise sheltering solutions, based on field experience, developed outside of the urgency of a disaster.Our activities are threefold: Mapping – Innovating – Interacting:
Mapping: we document and analyse how shelters are built today. If we build a better institutional memory of sheltering, we can improve future interventions.
Innovating: mapping triggers research and development of innovative shelter solutions. The SRU does this through collaboration with established R&D units of private companies and universities.Interacting: we work united with practitioners, academics and private enterprises to contribute to shelter research in times outside of the urgency of disaster, we help to unlock a vast body of knowledge and share it with the whole Movement, and other shelter agencies.Products of the IFRC SRUAcademic curriculaThe IFRC SRU supports the development of shelter research at universities in the areas of engineering, architecture, urban planning, product development, industrial design and cross-cutting humanitarian issues. The IFRC SRU stimulates and channels scientific research of student by identifying areas of interest, searching for funding, providing expert feedback and disseminating the results inside the Movement and the larger shelter sector.Emergency itemsThe IFRC SRU works with R&D departments of universities and private sector partners to increase and improve the range of emergency shelter items that can be sent to a disaster affected area within the first weeks after a disaster. These items should cover the first needs while stimulating a smooth and quick transition to longer term recovery. Considering the diversity of disaster contexts, these items need to be both precise and flexible to ensure a qualitative response in a wide range of contexts.Improved shelter typesThe IFRC SRU studies the types of constructions the affected population seeks shelter in, in the first weeks, months, up to years after the disaster. Then, the IFRC SRU evaluates how best these efforts of self-recovery have been and can be supported by humanitarian agencies. The ambition is to come to a concise set of improved shelter types for specific contexts.Shelter documentationThe IFRC SRU intends to play a part in generating and sharing knowledge in the shelter sector. It documents information that is useful for practitioners involved in shelter response. In addition to documentation, the IFRC SRU actively seeks to share the information that it generates in a direct way with shelter professionals. This effort, otherwise called IFRC SRU documentation effort (SRUde), is one of the main activities of the IFRC SRU. The specific objectives of SRUde are to:- Collect information on technical and material aspects of shelter,- Organize and analyze the collected materials,- Share information with the shelter community of practice.
IFRC SRU’s structure and donorsIFRC SRU’s activities are made possible by funding and support received from a number of organizations who share our interest and concern in sheltering.Since our establishment in 2010 our work was made possible by funding received from the European Commission Humanitarian Aid (ECHO) [vi] grant. The ECHO Grant has helped us further our research ambitions with Universities in the Benelux.FVEMTIn addition¸ we are very thankful to the Fondation Veuve Emile Metz-Tesch Luxembourg for their unwavering support towards furthering learning, especially in the still young Shelter Curriculum.We have received support from the Luxembourg Government’s Development and Cooperation Fund available through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Luxembourg[vii], which has enabled us to bring continuity to the Unit’s work.We are thankful to Progecad [viii], who has equipped us with up to the standard drawing software.
The European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid department funds relief operations for victims of natural disasters and conflicts outside the European Union. Aid is channeled impartially, straight to people in need, regardless of their race, ethnic group, religion, gender, age, nationality or political affiliation.The IFRC SRU is in the process of becoming a non-profit separate legal entity under Luxembourg Law, governed by its five establishing partners.Contact and further informationIf you would like to contact the IFRC Shelter Research Unit please reach us via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or write us at:IFRC Shelter Research UnitLuxembourg Red Cross44, boulevard Joseph IIL-2014 LuxembourgIf you would like to receive information about forthcoming events, new resources and other news from the IFRC Shelter Research Unit you can join our mailing list by sending an e-mail to: email@example.com.
 Gould, Ch, ‘The Right to Housing Recovery After Natural Disasters’ Harvard Human Rights Journal / Vol. 22, Retrieved from <http://harvardhrj.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/gould.pdf> idem
[i] Hyperlink : http://www.ifrc.org/[ii] Hyperlink : http://www.croix-rouge.lu[iii] Hyperlink : http://www.rodekruis.be[iv] Hyperlink : http://www.croix-rouge.be[v] Hyperlink : http://www.rodekruis.nl[vi] Hyperlink : http://ec.europa.eu/echo/about/what/history_en.htm[vii] Hyperlink : http://cooperation.mae.lu/fr/S-engager-dans-la-cooperation#ancre_top[viii] Hyperlink : http://www.progesoft.com/