Does temporary housing hinder the recovery process?
Winners of the “best contribution” awards:
The committee members (Ilan Kelman, Graham Saunders, Danielle Labbé, Gonzalo Lizarralde, and Mahmood Fayazi) acknowledge the engagement of all participants and their thoughtful contributions to this debate. They determined that the winners are:
Nicolas Gauvin First prize – best comments
Yoann Semerdjian Second prize
Lila Irajifar Third prize
Congratulations to these winners!
Our i-Rec – Œuvre durable online debates will now move to another issue of great importance: the role of land in vulnerability and resilience. The next debate about this subject will be posted online in the next few months. We invite you all to participate on it!
The moderator’s opening remarks
Temporary housing programs recognize that post-disaster reconstruction typically takes years to complete, and immediate shelter is required throughout this period. It is believed that temporary housing permits households to resume daily and domestic activities and provides them with a safe and healthy environment, as well as privacy and dignity during the phase of permanent reconstruction. This approach is often based on arguments such as: 1) If temporary shelters are sufficiently durable to last until the completion of reconstruction (which may take several years) affected families do not have to move several times and thus can create a certain sense of permanence, and 2) Some solutions allow households to upgrade or incorporate temporary shelters into permanent reconstruction (for instance, as an extra room or a storage area), or permit the reuse of materials in permanent reconstruction.
On the other side, opponents of this approach often argue that temporary housing must be avoided, in part due to the following reasons: 1) substandard temporary shelters often become permanent, perpetuating environmental, social and economic problems, 2) even when local materials are used, production of temporary shelters is highly expensive, 3) families’ land rights are hardly resolved in the temporary housing process, leaving families settled indefinitely, but without legal status, and 3) units are often poorly built and are located in remote land, far from services and infrastructure.
In this debate we invite two internationally known experts in the field of reconstruction to defend two opposite viewpoints. Over the next ten days our panelists will present their most persuasive arguments, but the result of our debate rests in your hands. Do not be afraid to vote immediately—you can always change your mind. Even better, once you have cast your vote, add your voice to the debate and explain your decision. We look forward to reading the comments of all those who participate.
Gonzalo Lizarralde is professor at the School of Architecture of Université de Montréal. He has long experience in consulting for architecture and construction projects and has published important research in the fields of low-cost housing and project management. Dr. Lizarralde is the director of the IF Research Group (grif) of Université de Montréal, which studies the processes related to the planning and development of construction projects.
The proposer’s opening remarks
Shelter fulfills four main needs, summarized as: (i) physical and psychological health including protection from the elements and a feeling of home and community, (ii) privacy and dignity for families and for the community, (iii) physical and psychological security, and (iv) livelihood support. For the sake of argument, I suggest that temporary housing cannot fulfill those needs and thus the recovery process is hindered.
In particular, the fact that the housing is temporary immediately precludes much feeling of security and much sense of community, since families know they will move and will not invest extensively into making temporary housing a home. The other needs have the potential to be met, but rarely are. Donors, as with families, are unwilling to invest extensively in temporary housing due to the fact that it is indeed temporary. But then, when temporary housing is completed, there is less impetus to push forward with permanent housing because they see that disaster-affected populations are living somewhere—irrespective of whether or not the four main needs are being met.
Suddenly, families find themselves in a form of purgatory, unable to fully settle because the housing is temporary but frequently lacking a clear or achieved timeline for moving into permanent housing. In the meantime, the temporary housing uses land and resources, interfering with community activities (e.g. school playing fields) and requiring water and sanitation services as well as public transport links. As donor interest wanes with time, the families are caught between (a) making their temporary housing livable so that it fulfills the main shelter needs and (b) planning and pushing for permanent housing. Being torn between these two objectives tends to slow down both, inhibiting disaster recovery.
In theory, none of this sequence needs to manifest. In theory, it would be easy to provide temporary housing and then to work immediately on permanent housing to effect an efficient transition. In practice, that efficient transition is not common. Instead, too often, temporary housing becomes long-term housing and the recovery process is inhibited.
The challenge is that this statement only identifies a problem. It does not proffer a solution. Alternatives are needed to a temporary housing approach which produces fewer problems than temporary housing. I throw out this challenge for discussion: Temporary housing hinders the recovery process, but what options would be better? Or are we in a Churchillian domain that temporary housing is the worst choice for shelter within disaster recovery – apart from all the other options.
The opposition’s opening remarks
It has been well documented that where possible disaster affected households will begin the rebuilding and reconstruction process immediately and such efforts should be supported. However, the impact of disasters on the capabilities and resources of households, the need for safe debris removal, the functioning of the local economy and the regulatory environment, safety and security, and the need for re-planning or relocation may necessitate the provision of temporary accommodation in the interim. Any such temporary short or medium term solution should be considered a component of a longer term recovery process providing contextually appropriate sheltering options. These include support for hosting, cash for rent, and material and technical support for improvised shelter on the site of the original dwelling, as well as the provision of an in situ or prefabricated housing product.
Unfortunately, temporary housing has come to be perceived as primarily the provision of a housing “product”. The term “transitional shelter”, originally introduced to reflect local building technologies which could be upgraded over time to “transition” into a permanent dwelling has become synonymous with the provision of poorly constructed timber “sheds” . The ill-informed adoption of such approaches has often been compounded by the absence of a longer term recovery process, or the assumption by those providing such short-term solutions that “others” will provide longer-term or permanent housing which will address key issues such as structural vulnerabilities and adequacy. All too often, investment in such unsatisfactory temporary housing absorbs investment that could or should contribute to ensuring more durable housing.
What does this mean for households whose homes have been damaged or destroyed by natural disasters or conflicts, and who can safely return to the site of their original home, but who need some form of temporary accommodation whilst they or others undertake the required construction? Perhaps more challenging, what does this means for households who cannot immediately return to the site of their original home, because of changes to the topography or stability of the original site, or because of an on-going conflict? In the context of both natural disasters and conflicts, what does this mean for the inhabitants of urban areas, who may have been living on the upper floors of a multi-storey building, or tenants or informal dwellers, for whom immediate reconstruction and reoccupation is either not an option or is uncertain?
Temporary housing as a stand-alone activity when immediate shelter needs can be met through an iterative reconstruction process can indeed hinder recovery. The onus is therefore on the decision-makers and practitioners to apply an informed understanding of the operational and regulatory context, the initial response, needs and capacities of the affected households, and the meeting temporary housing needs as part of a longer term recovery process. Clearly a more nuanced approach is required to meet immediate post disaster shelter needs whilst enabling the provision over time of more durable housing solutions. This means ensuring that the provision of temporary shelter assistance should complement – and not impede – the permanent construction process and mitigate the social and economic impact of such temporary settlement. Leaving immediate shelter needs unmet in favour of investing in longer term permanent housing that may not be available for occupation for weeks if not months is not an option.
|The proposer’s rebuttal remarks
Thank you to everyone for the contributions and discussion. It has been sad to learn of so much evidence on the problems for recovery created by temporary housing. Conversely, it has been inspiring to reiterate all the possibilities for temporary housing to support people post-disaster and into recovery. Why are those possibilities rarely fulfilled?
Haiti was the unfortunately “perfect” situation in which temporary housing could have specifically been used to support recovery. An immense calamity brought the world’s eyes, significant donor support, and the best experts-with the knowledge and guidelines having been available and used for training,
Yet Haiti still witnessed similar problems from previous decades, the problems which had galvanised the development and publication of the above guidelines. Why?
Was it lack of donor support, that even more money was needed? In many locations after the 2004 Indian Ocean and 2011 Japan tsunamis, money was not lacking, yet similar problems manifested. Money is definitely needed and appreciated, but the problems stem from more than only money. Was it lack of a permanent housing policy, rather than being inherent to temporary housing? The guidelines and training are clear that permanent housing policy should not be neglected for temporary housing. Nevertheless, that frequently occurs. Perhaps the failure to link permanent and temporary emerges from a short-term focus on temporary.
Are there further explanations which are not contained within the guidelines and which have not yet been considered in research, in training, and in the field? While appreciating the good practice case studies which exist and while thanking those who do succeed, perhaps the challenge is that we poorly implement temporary housing for a variety of political and institutional reasons—reasons which are difficult to overcome. Or is it the fundamental nature of temporary housing itself which hinders recovery?
|The opposition’s rebuttal remarks
From the perspective of an individual or household, “temporary” is not a preferred state with regard to employment, residency, access to services or indeed housing. However, in the absence of a permanent solution to meeting these needs a temporary or interim solution may be acceptable or indeed essential.
What this debate has highlighted is that in meeting post disaster shelter needs greater discretion is required in using “temporary housing” as a descriptive term and in its application as a programmatic approach. Where there are no security or regulatory impediments to disaster-affected households repairing or rebuilding their homes this should be supported – which could include the erection of a temporary structure that is progressively upgraded overtime to become the permanent home.
For households displaced internally or across borders due to conflict etc., and who are unable to return or have yet to secure a location for permanent resettlement, a temporary or interim housing solution is the only option. Similarly, the term “recovery process” should be placed in the context of the usual process of housing in a given location existing prior to the impact of the disaster and continuing long after the ending of the formal “reconstruction phase”.
Housing for an individual or household is an iterative process, with both location and type of accommodation reflecting available assets, the changing demographics of the household, the regulatory environment, cultural or social preferences, and economic opportunities. Any post disaster housing intervention should reflect this existing process where possible, in which an interim or temporary solution may be a manageable and desirable component. Any shelter intervention, whether the provision of a tent or the construction of a permanent house, requires adequate analysis of the potential risks and how such risks will be managed.
A justifiable concern is that temporary housing by its nature is typically unable to address all shelter and settlement risks and vulnerabilities, and can expose households to new or increased risks. Hence the use of short term shelter interventions, even when part of a longer term permanent solution, should include analysis and management of such risks by the affected households. The most effective approach to managing and reducing such risks is the transitioning of any such temporary interventions to permanent as soon as possible.
|The proposer’s closing remarks
Thank you to everyone for their contributions, insights, and thoughts, leading to an invigorating discussion. We still need further work on how to overcome the ills of temporary housing, such as that (i) it often becomes permanent despite being inadequate and (ii) focus on temporary housing can de-emphasise the need for permanent housing policy and practice. Post-disaster situations are not easy for those affected; they deserve full support for recovering which could mean sometimes abandoning long-held approaches which are inappropriate for the particular context. Thank you again to everyone for participating.
|The opposition’s closing remarks
This debate has highlighted both the wide-ranging understanding and implementation of temporary housing, and the challenges in advancing recovery and reconstruction activities in the immediate aftermath of disaster. Clearly temporary or non-permanent shelter is often the only option for displaced households without the right or opportunity to permanently settle in the locations to which they have been displaced. Similarly, for households whose original homes were in locations that require extensive debris removal or were in urban centres requiring major re-planning, were in multi-storey or multi-occupancy structures, or facing regulatory barriers to initiating reconstruction activities, some form of interim accommodation has required.
I suggest that rather than focusing on the application (or misapplication) of temporary housing approaches the underlying problem is the apparent hesitancy to more widely support recovery and reconstruction activities from the outset. The response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and the extensive erection of predominantly timber “sheds” was in part driven by media and public pressure, and the availability of sufficient financial resources, to rapidly provide what could be perceived as “homes” and not emergency shelter. It is also apparent from ongoing research and analysis by IFRC and others into the regulatory barriers to meeting post-disaster shelter needs that in many contexts the established building planning and approval process, and the capacity of the appropriate authorities to administer such processes, are not framed to meet the urgency and scale required after disasters.
At national level, in many countries the provision of post disaster shelter assistance, often categorized as social welfare, is distinct from the technical oversight of housing and construction, with responsibilities residing in different line ministries. Within humanitarian agencies and donors there is typically a lack of institutional recognition and understanding of shelter and reconstruction at senior management or country representative level. This typically results in a risk-averse approach which prioritizes short-term emergency or temporary shelter over engaging in potentially long-term, more complex reconstruction with poorly understood concerns regarding institutional legal liability, property rights and tenure, and the financial investment required. Ironically, as evidenced by many examples at country level, enabling affected households to start the reconstruction or repair of their homes progressively decreases the role of the responding government or agencies as such households invest their own resources and resolve ongoing issues themselves.
The question that should be asked is not whether temporary housing hinders the recovery process, it is why support for recovery and reconstruction is not the default response instead of the provision of temporary housing and what are the institutional impediments within affected governments, donors and humanitarian agencies to make this the norm.