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Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response

Shelter and settlement standard 3: Covered living space

People have sufficient covered living space providing thermal comfort, fresh air and protection from the climate ensuring their privacy, safety and health and enabling essential household and livelihood activities to be undertaken.

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. Climate and context: In cold climates, household activities typically take place within the covered area and affected populations may spend substantial time inside to ensure adequate thermal comfort. In urban settings, household activities typically occur within the covered area as there is usually less adjacent external space that can be used. A covered floor area in excess of 3.5m2 per person will often be required to meet these considerations. The floor-to-ceiling height is also a key factor, with greater height being preferable in hot and humid climates to aid air circulation, while a lower height is preferable in cold climates to minimise the internal volume that requires heating. The internal floor-to-ceiling height should be a minimum of two metres at the highest point. In warmer climates, adjacent shaded external space can be used for food preparation and cooking. Shelter solutions may have to accommodate a range of climatic extremes from cold nights and winters to hot days and summers. Where materials for a complete shelter cannot be provided, roofing materials to provide the minimum covered area should be prioritised. The resulting enclosure may not provide the necessary protection from the climate nor security, privacy and dignity, so steps should be taken to meet these needs as soon as possible (see Guidance note 2).

  2. Duration: In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, particularly in extreme climatic conditions where shelter materials are not readily available, a covered area of less than 3.5m2 per person may be appropriate to save life and to provide adequate short-term shelter. In such instances, the covered area should reach 3.5m2 per person as soon as possible to minimise adverse impact on the health and well-being of the people accommodated. If 3.5m2 per person cannot be achieved, or is in excess of the typical space used by the affected or neighbouring population, the impact on dignity, health and privacy of a reduced covered area should be considered. Any decision to provide less than 3.5m2 per person should be highlighted, along with actions to mitigate adverse effects on the affected population. Temporary or transitional shelter solutions may be required to provide adequate shelter for an extended duration, through different seasonal climates and potentially for several years. Response plans agreed with local authorities or others should ensure that temporary or transitional shelters are not allowed to become default permanent housing.

  3. Cultural practices, safety and privacy: Existing local practices in the use of covered living space, for example sleeping arrangements and the accommodation of extended family members, should inform the covered area required. Consultation should include members of vulnerable groups and those caring for such individuals. Opportunities for internal subdivision within individual household shelters should be provided. In collective accommodation, the grouping of related families, well-planned access routes through the covered area and materials to screen personal and household space can aid the provision of adequate personal privacy and safety. The psychosocial benefits of ensuring adequate space provision and privacy while minimising overcrowding should be maximised in both individual household shelters and temporary collective accommodation (see Protection Principle 1).

  4. Household and livelihood activities: The covered area should provide space for the following activities: sleeping, washing and dressing; care of infants, children and the ill or infirm; storage of food, water, household possessions and other key assets; cooking and eating indoors when required; and the common gathering of the household members. The planning of the covered area, in particular the location of openings and subdivisions, should maximise the use of the internal space and any adjacent external area.

  5. Shelter solutions, materials and construction: Defined shelter solutions such as family tents, shelter kits, packages of materials or prefabricated buildings should be provided where local post-disaster shelter options are not readily available, are inadequate or cannot be sustainably supported by the local natural environment. Where reinforced plastic sheeting is provided as a relief item for emergency shelter, it should be complemented with rope, tools, fixings and supporting materials such as timber poles or locally procured framing elements. Any such materials or defined shelter solutions should meet agreed national and international specifications and standards and be acceptable to the affected population. When only part of the materials for a basic shelter are provided (e.g. plastic sheeting), assess and mitigate any potential adverse impact on the local economy or natural environment of the sourcing other materials needed (e.g. timber poles for framing). The technical and financial ability of the affected population to maintain and repair their shelter should also inform the specification of materials and technologies (see Non-food items standard 5). Regular monitoring should be undertaken to ensure that the performance of shelter solutions remains adequate over time.

  6. Participatory design: All members of each affected household should be involved to the maximum extent possible in determining the type of shelter assistance to be provided. The opinions of those groups or individuals who typically have to spend more time within the covered living space and those with specific accessibility needs should be prioritised. This should be informed by assessments of existing typical housing. Make households aware of the disadvantages as well as advantages of unfamiliar ‘modern’ forms of construction and materials which may be seen as improving the social status of such households (see Core standard 1).

  7. In warm, humid climates: Shelters should be oriented and designed to maximise ventilation and minimise entry of direct sunlight. The roof should have a reasonable slope for rainwater drainage with large overhangs except in locations vulnerable to high winds. The construction of the shelter should be lightweight, as low thermal capacity is required. Adequate surface water drainage should be ensured around the shelter together with the use of raised floors to minimise the risk of water entering the covered area.

  8. In hot, dry climates: Construction should be heavyweight to ensure high thermal capacity, allowing changes in night and day temperatures to alternately cool and heat the interior, or lightweight with adequate insulation. Care should be taken in the structural design of heavyweight construction in areas with seismic risks. If only plastic sheeting or tents are available, a double-skinned roof should be provided with ventilation between the layers to reduce radiant heat gain. Door and window openings positioned away from the direction of the prevailing wind will minimise heating by hot winds and heat radiation from the surrounding ground. Flooring should be provided that meets the external walling without gaps to minimise dust and vector penetration.

  9. In cold climates: Heavyweight construction with high thermal capacity is required for shelters that are occupied throughout the day. Lightweight construction with low thermal capacity and substantial insulation is more appropriate for shelters that are occupied only at night. Minimise air flow, particularly around door and window openings, to ensure personal comfort while also providing adequate ventilation for space heaters or cooking stoves. Stoves or other forms of space heaters are essential and must be appropriate to the shelter. Assess and mitigate potential fire risks from the use of stoves and heaters (see Non-food items standard 4). Surface-water drainage should be provided around the shelter and raised floors should be used to minimise the risk of water due to rain or snow melt from entering the covered area. The loss of body heat through the floor should be minimised by ensuring that the floor is insulated and through the use of insulated sleeping mats, mattresses or raised beds (see Non-food items standard 2).

  10. Ventilation and vector control: Adequate ventilation should be provided within individual household shelters and public buildings such as schools and healthcare facilities to maintain a healthy internal environment, minimise the effect of smoke from indoor household stoves and resulting respiratory infections and eye problems and limit the risk of transmission of diseases such as TB spread by droplet infection. Local building practices, the patterns of shelter use by displaced people and material selection should inform vector control measures (see Essential health services - control of communicable diseases standard 1 and Vector control standards 1–3 ).