Better Shelter is a Swedish social enterprise that seek to improve the lives of people displaced by conflict or natural disasters. They do this through innovative shelter solutions which are not just a quick roof over people's heads during times of emergency, but dignified and safe places that people can call home for what may end up being not such a temporary arrangement after all – 17 years is the average time a person will spend in a refugee camp.
Living conditions at refugee camps can be notoriously insalubrious and unsafe, with disease and violence sadly an ordinary occurrence for too many people who live there. The Better Shelter flat-pack shelters are the result of a partnership between the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the Ikea Foundation.
“The shelter resembles a house, with semi-hard, non-transparent walls. It has four windows and a high ceiling, enabling residents to stand upright inside. The door, lockable both from the inside and the outside, lets everyone – and women and children especially – feel safer when they are at home. A solar powered lamp provides light during the hours of darkness.”
With electricity a scarce resource in refugee camps, basic things such as cooking, reading or charging a mobile phone are often a luxury. Each shelter is equipped with an LED lamp, charged via a solar panel installed on the roof. The lamp provides not just four hours of light at each charge, but has also a USB port through which a mobile phone can be charged.
Designed to sustain strong sunlight, rain, snow and winds, and with a lifespan of three years, the shelters' modular design steel-frame allows for parts to be replaced quickly, and their roofs and wall panels are made from recyclable polymer plastic. Moreover, with user needs firmly in mind, configurations can be adapted, e.g. windows and doors can be located according to preferences, and sections can be added or removed to create bigger or smaller spaces.
The shelters, 17.5 square metres in size, can host up to five people, and are also suitable for use as medical centres. Some ten thousand of them are currently deployed worldwide, including by the UNHCR in Greece, Serbia, Iraq and Chad.