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Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response

Shelter and settlement standard 2: Settlement planning

The planning of return, host or temporary communal settlements enables the safe and secure use of accommodation and essential services by the affected population.

 Key actions (to be read in conjunction with the guidance notes)


Key indicators (to be read in conjunction with the guidance notes)


Guidance notes

  1. Planning processes: Local planning practices should be used and informed by the type of disaster or crisis, identified hazards and the impact on the affected population. Appropriate measures to minimise settlement risks and vulnerabilities should be used. Existing planning regulations should be complied with where required by the relevant authorities and where this does not impede the humanitarian imperative of meeting urgent shelter and settlement needs. The longer-term implications of planning decisions, particularly regarding sites for temporary communal settlement, should be identified.
  2. Housing, land and property ownership, rights and usage: For both non-displaced and displaced populations, identify ownership of relevant land, housing or other buildings and the holders of formal or customary use rights. Such issues are often controversial, especially where records may not have been kept or where conflict may have affected possession. Multi-occupancy dwellings or buildings with mixed usage will involve common or shared ownership or occupancy rights. The identification of the land or property rights of vulnerable people should be sought and such people supported, in particular women, those widowed or orphaned by the disaster, persons with disabilities, tenants, social occupancy rights-holders and informal settlers. Clarify formal, informal or understood rights of ownership or inheritance, particularly following a disaster in which the holder of the rights or title may have died or been displaced. The provision of group tenure or similar to a number of households where no formal rights existed before the disaster can assist in the incremental establishment of such rights. The provision of shelter assistance may also be perceived or used as legitimising land title claims which could inhibit or prevent humanitarian action. The use of land for temporary communal settlements should consider existing use rights of the land or natural environmental resources by the host or neighbouring communities (see Shelter and settlement standard 5).
  3. Essential services and facilities: Disaster-affected populations returning to the site of their original homes, being hosted or accommodated in temporary communal settlements all require safe, secure and equitable access to essential services. These include, as appropriate, water, sanitary facilities, fuel for cooking or communal cooking facilities, healthcare, solid waste disposal, schools, social facilities, places of worship, meeting points, recreational areas, including child-friendly spaces and space for livestock accommodation (ensuring adequate separation of any such livestock from residential spaces). Sufficient space should be provided for culturally appropriate burials and associated rituals. The use of existing or repaired facilities should be maximised where this does not adversely affect neighbouring or host communities. Additional facilities or access points to meet the needs of the target population, and in particular vulnerable people, should be provided. The social structure and gender roles of the affected population and the requirements of vulnerable people should be reflected in the service provision, for example ensuring services are within reasonable walking distance for individuals with mobility difficulties and the provision of safe breastfeeding areas in temporary communal settlements. Appropriate access to facilities for older people, those with physical disabilities and those who need frequent access should be ensured. Administrative offices, warehousing and staff accommodation and quarantine areas in temporary communal settlements should be provided as required (see WASH standard 1 and Health systems standard 1).
  4. Access: Access to the settlement, the condition of local road infrastructure and proximity to transport hubs for the supply of relief assistance should be assessed, taking into account seasonal constraints, hazards and security risks. For temporary communal settlements, the site itself and any primary storage and food distribution points should be accessible by heavy trucks from an all-weather road. Other facilities should be accessible by light vehicles. Roads and pathways within settlements should provide safe, secure and all-weather access to individual dwellings and communal facilities including schools and healthcare facilities. Artificial lighting should be provided as required. Within temporary communal settlements or collective centres, access and escape routes should avoid creating isolated or screened areas that could pose a threat to the personal safety of users. Steps or changes of level close to exits in collective centres should be avoided and handrails for any stairways and ramps should be provided. For occupants with mobility difficulties, space on the ground floor should be provided, close to exits or along access routes without changes of level. The occupants of buildings used as collective centres should be within an agreed reasonable distance of a minimum of two exits, providing alternative escape routes, and these exits should be clearly visible.
  5. Site selection and drainage: Surface water drainage and the risks of ponding or flooding should be assessed when selecting sites and planning temporary communal settlements. The site gradient should not exceed 6 per cent, unless extensive drainage and erosion control measures are taken, or be less than 1 per cent to provide for adequate drainage. Drainage channels may still be required to minimise flooding or ponding. The lowest point of the site should be not less than three metres above the estimated maximum level of the water table. The ground conditions should be suitable for excavating toilet pits and should inform the locations of toilets and other facilities (see Excreta disposal standards and Drainage standard 1).
  6. Site planning for temporary communal settlements: Space allocation within collective centres and household plots within temporary planned camps should be informed by existing social practices and use of shared resources, including water and sanitation facilities, communal cooking, food distribution, etc. Neighbourhood planning should support existing social networks, contribute to security and enable self-management by the affected population. The plot layout in temporary planned camps should maintain the privacy and dignity of separate households by ensuring that each household shelter opens onto common space or a screened area for the use of the household instead of being opposite the entrance to another shelter. Safe, integrated living areas for displaced populations that include a significant number of single adults or unaccompanied children should be provided. For dispersed settlements, the principles of neighbourhood planning should also apply, e.g. groups of households return to a defined geographical area or identify host families in close proximity to one another (see Protection principle 1).
  7. Surface area of temporary planned or self-settled camps: For camp-type settlements, a minimum usable surface area of 45 square metres for each person including household plots should be provided. The area should have the necessary space for roads and footpaths, external household cooking areas or communal cooking areas, educational facilities and recreational areas, sanitation, firebreaks, administration, water storage, distribution areas, markets, storage and limited kitchen gardens for individual households. Where communal services can be provided by existing or additional facilities outside of the planned area of the settlement, the minimum usable surface area should be 30m2 for each person. Area planning should also consider changes in the population. If the minimum surface area cannot be provided, the consequences of higher-density occupation should be mitigated, for example through ensuring adequate separation and privacy between individual households, space for the required facilities, etc.
  8. Fire safety: Assess fire risks to inform the site planning of temporary communal settlements and the grouping of individual household shelters. Mitigating actions should include the provision of a 30-metre firebreak between every 300 metres of built-up area, and a minimum of 2 metres (but preferably twice the overall height of any structure) between individual buildings or shelters to prevent collapsing structures from touching adjacent buildings. Preferred cooking practices and the use of stoves or heaters should also inform the overall site planning and the safe separation of household shelters (see Non-food items standard 4).
  9. Vector risks: Low-lying areas, debris resulting from the disaster, vacant buildings and excavations, such as those resulting from the use of local earth for construction, can provide breeding grounds for pests which could pose health risks to nearby populations. For temporary communal settlements, appropriate site selection and the mitigation of vector risks are key to reducing the impact of vector-borne diseases on affected populations (see Vector control standards 1–3 ).