Product, Service & Design Innovation
UN Refugee Agency Buys 10,000 of IKEA's Lightweight 'Better Shelters'

IKEA has announced that its line of flat-pack refugee shelters are going into production after being tested among refugee families in Ethiopia, Iraq and Lebanon.

The “Better Shelter” is a temporary shelter with an expected lifespan of three years — far longer than conventional refugee shelters, which last about six months. Delivered in flat packs, it is designed with special attention to transport volume, weight, price, safety, health and comfort, and it can be assembled on site without additional tools and equipment. It also has a solar panel and lamp to provide light during the dark hours.

The Swedish furniture maker developed the lightweight shelter in partnership the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Now the shelter is ready to be used in refugee camps, and UNHCR has made a frame agreement to buy 10,000 of them from the social enterprise BetterShelter.org, which is developing and manufacturing them.

Production of shelters is about to begin, and in the summer of 2015 UNHCR will start providing the shelter to thousands of families in refugee camps fleeing violence, conflict, persecution and natural disasters.

“Putting refugee families and their needs at the heart of this project is a great example of how democratic design can be used for humanitarian value,” said Jonathan Spampinato, Head of Strategic Planning and Communications at the IKEA Foundation.

Some 45 million people have been forced from their homes by political conflict or violence across the world — the highest number in 18 years, according to the UN. Ten percent of these people live in tents, many of which offer no electricity and cannot provide adequate insulation from the heat or the cold. While tent-based refugee camps have an average lifespan of about six months, refugees tend to stay for several years.

Researchers at the University of the West of England in Bristol and the charity Oxfam are developing another innovation that could prove useful in refugee camps —“pee power” toilets. The technology uses urine-fed microbial fuel cell (MFC) stacks to generate electricity that can power indoor lighting, and the technology could be scaled up by aid agencies to bring light to refugee camp toilets in disaster zones.

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