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The State of Humanitarian Shelter and Settlements 2018 - Beyond the Better Shed: Prioritizing People

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For most of us, a safe and secure home is at the centre of our lives. It is the place where we eat, sleep, study, raise a family, socialize and take sanctuary. For many people, it is also their most significant financial asset. We work all our lives for it, and continuously invest time, money and energy to improve it.

Yet, each year, millions of people around the world lose their homes as a result of disasters and conflict. For these people, recovering from a crisis is a long and arduous process, and full recovery is not always achievable. Those of us in the humanitarian shelter and settlements sector work hard to assist affected people to (re)build their homes and communities. But the task is too big and broad to be undertaken by shelter specialists alone. There is need for a wider understanding of the complexities and difficulties we face, for more efficient collaboration with other sectors, and for more effective advocacy. It is high time for our message to reach a broader community, and for the voice of the shelter and settlements sector to be heard by the world.

This is why you are reading the first report on The State of Humanitarian Shelter and Settlements. This report tells the story of the humanitarian shelter and settlements sector. Although meeting people’s needs for shelter and settlement has always been part and parcel of humanitarian work, only quite recently has it been formalized as a stand-alone sector, owing this recognition to the establishment of the ‘cluster approach’ in 2005. Following almost every disaster and crisis, shelter is regarded as a critical, life-saving need alongside, for instance, health and protection.

But the problems, scope, practice and benefits of providing humanitarian shelter and settlement assistance are still, for those outside the sector, not well understood. This lack of understanding results in poorly integrated responses at best, and at worst in a significant gap in meeting an essential need of affected people, denying them a decent, healthy and suitable place to live.

Although raising the awareness of those outside our sector to understand shelter and settlements is still a hurdle, never before has the humanitarian shelter and settlements sector been more coherent and consistent in its approach, strategies and practice. Humanitarian agencies and institutions have come closer together over the past twelve years, through the Global Shelter Cluster, to develop common policy and standards, share experience, build capacity and strengthen synergies to better overcome the difficulties that they commonly face. This inclusiveness, vision and direction are also evident in the way the sector united to formulate a Global Shelter Cluster strategy for the period 2018 to 2022.

Over the last decade, a body of knowledge on good practice has emerged.
Yet we still need greater investment in gathering evidence of the long-term results of shelter and settlement work, to better understand its crucial role in wider humanitarian response. It is important for the Global Shelter Cluster to help build this body of evidence, and to cooperate more proactively and effectively with the wider humanitarian community in disseminating this knowledge, in order to achieve better recognition and understanding.

Sharing knowledge and approaches that examine more deeply the complexities of humanitarian shelter and settlements, and analyzing in closer detail current trends – such as urban response, involvement of government, civil society and the private sector, localization, and cash-based responses – will help make overall humanitarian responses more effective and accountable.
Our aim with this publication is to raise the profile and provide a better understanding of the humanitarian shelter and settlements sector. We hope this report will be used by humanitarian policy makers, donors, governments, academics and senior managers of humanitarian agencies and institutions, to better prepare for and meet the shelter and settlement needs of populations affected by humanitarian crises.

In this report we paint a broad picture of humanitarian shelter and settlements. We set the general scene about the sector, its scope and effects; discuss major issues and links to other disciplines; and identify difficulties and gaps. We cover a wide array of topics, emphasizing the complexity, relevance and foundational nature of shelter and settlements, providing the basis for future reports, which will focus on particular topics.

Today, we have never before faced such a broad spectrum of problems that need solving, such as climate change, the uprooting of millions of people, and unplanned urbanization. Let us open the dialogue and join forces to harness the power of all that good, to make sure that everyone has a safe, secure and dignified place to call home. Thank you for reading.

On behalf of the Global Shelter Cluster


Ela Serdaroglu and Brett Moore
Global Shelter Cluster Coordinators,
International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees