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A new era in emergency shelter: steel disaster houses

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By Ayberk Yurtsever, Turkish Red Crescent Society

Steel houses that can be put up quickly and easily to provide essential shelter for victims of disaster are a major element of the Turkish Red Crescent disaster preparedness programme. First used in the aftermath of the Pakistan earthquake in 2005, the houses have already proved a successful component in helping families in crisis and are now being stored in at-risk areas across Turkey.

Using the experience of Pakistan, the Turkish Red Crescent worked on improving and adapting the steel houses design. Through the 'Obakent Project', they now form an important part of its disaster preparedness and intervention programme, which has seen radical changes since the Marmara earthquake of 1999. As part of this, a modern disaster operation centre has been established and disaster response operations have moved from a central to a regional structure.

The Turkish Red Crescent's 'large disaster steel houses' are extremely resistant to hot and cold temperatures, able to offer protection up to -22° C. They are therefore an ideal solution for large countries like Turkey, particularly when a disaster occurs in the winter months.

Each of the living units contains four bunks, four sleeping bags, blankets, tables, chairs, kitchen utensils, cleaning materials and a radio. A food store and toilet/shower is also provided for each family, creating a more hygienic environment for victims of disaster. Another unit is used as an infirmary, while a generator set can be installed to provide special lighting. Each unit can be put in just 15 minutes.

One thousand and twenty steel houses were delivered to Pakistan in October 2005. They were used in the harsh climate and geographical conditions of Muzafferabad, Balakot, and Bagh, giving homeless families warmth and shelter.

"Our house collapsed in the earthquake," said Mustak Emin, who is living in one of the houses with his granddaughter. "We struggled in the village for three days and then came to the camp. I am very happy to be here." Mustak lost is wife, son and daughter-in-law in the disaster.

The Turkish Red Crescent promoted its initiative at the 7th European Regional Red Cross and Red Crescent Conference in Istanbul by setting up a small village of steel houses. It is now looking for financial backing to allow it to build more of the houses to ensure a good supply around the country to protect families when disaster strikes.