Designing a viable refugee shelter is one thing, but having the necessary infrastructure in place to make huge numbers of the shelter affordably and transporting it to those in need is quite another. Which is why the news that Ikea has committed to deliver 10,000 units of its flatpack refugee shelter to UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency) could potentially prove a big deal.
Like its furniture, Ikea's Better Shelter arrives in flatpack form, and ships in just two large cardboard boxes. It can be assembled without any specialist tools in around four hours by a group of four people with some basic training. As we reported back when it was still a prototype, the shelter comprises a metal frame of pipes and connectors with stiffening wires to support walls and a roof made of plastic panels. It looks pretty lightweight but comes with an anchoring system and is sure to be more solid than a tent, and Ikea says it's rated to last around three years.
The shelter measures 17.5 sq m (188 sq ft) and comprises one space that looks suitable for accommodating even a fairly large family, if not in comfort then at least in relative safety. A roof-based aluminum shade serves to reduce solar heat gain, and there's also four small windows – though one can still imagine the inside becoming very warm in hotter climes. A small solar panel on the roof powers an interior lamp that automatically switches on when the sun sets and also feeds a USB port for charging small devices.
"The RHU is an exciting new development in humanitarian shelter and represents a much needed addition to the palette of sheltering options mobilized to assist those in need," says Shaun Scales, Chief of Shelter and Settlement, at UNHCR. "Its deployment will ensure dramatic improvement to the lives of many people affected by crises."
The shelters are due to go into production imminently and UNHCR will begin shipping them to families living in refugee camps around the world in mid-2015.