Salient Features of Mid Term Shelters

The objective of an appropriate response after a natural disaster cannot simply be the delivery of sheds for shelter. Even though the immediate needs of people are for a quick shelter – that which tents / emergency shelter spaces provide, a mid-term need is that of a waiting house wherein a family may spend upto one to one half year till such time permanent homes are available.

These shelters too should come up fairly quickly to provide the necessary relief, and, these ‘mid-term’ shelters need to be treated as short stay homes. They will be people’s homes for such a period, but these should certainly not be treated as permanent homes. Let us examine each aspect:

Speed is of essence and the pace of construction once begun should not slacken but continue till the job is done. External bottlenecks if any should be minimized in the process.

  • A stone balli-structure may seem to be starting off slowly but the process quickly picks up speed and continues to increase its pace as more and more local people and masons join in. It is not dependent on the logistics of external factory production.

The Mid-term shelter may be a short stay home, but it still needs to be climatically responsive so that families can bear at least one if not two winters, a summer and a monsoon. Eventually, it should be dismantled and the materials used for permanent homes.

  • A stone and balli midterm home will be a cosy space that families can comfortably stay for a short period. They will be warmer in winters and not heat up when the sun shines hard. They can easily put in simple things like hooks and shelves and even adjust the room sizes to suit their individual needs, it will not be as cold in winters and as hot when the sun shines overhead. In addition, they will be able to take all materials to use in walls and roofs of their permanent homes, with whatever modifications that are needed done locally in the village.

The communities need livelihoods along with homes. Any action after a natural disaster must aim to bring in work to strengthen the economic situation in the affected area, where most of the major economic activities come to near stand still for a substantial length of time.

  • A stone and balli mid-term shelter (with a tile or a GI roof) will enable the affected families, and local masons and carpenters to put in their labor and earn even as they build their own homes. Thus enabling some financial flows into the villages. It also permits skill development that will enable the local artisans to continue to earn their living through the building activity in their own area.

A shelter response after a disaster, must aim to build back better. It must lay a foundation for long term sustainable construction processes This means disaster resistant and sustainable more eco-friendly homes. Sustainability emerges from use of low energy, local resource based houses constructed in disaster safe manner, enabling local livelihoods and respond to local cultural aesthetics.

  • A stone and balli tile structure is not only able to handle the weather conditions, it will demonstrate the application of low carbon, low energy structures that may be promoted in future and thus lays ground for the permanent structures that are locally appropriate and sustainable in the long term. The processes it sets in place will promote local livelihoods and local skills and reinforce a local cultural aesthetic.

A mid-term shelter is an opportunity to provide a confidence building amongst communities. This confidence building comes with being engaged with the act of building and with familiarity of their locale.

  • A local material using shelter in which families are engaged in the process will help them get their confidence back and as they will be part of the process, the discontent will never arise, in fact they will themselves be able to do minor repairs if required. Longer time contentment will also be reflected in their responses. As the techniques are local, no special skills are required, minimal training during the construction of the mid-term shelters will be adequate.

Lastly but most importantly the use of stone in midterm shelter will bring to forefront the issue of the use of local materials in the construction of houses that has been for long impeded in the state by various directives and executive orders, and in the process has caused immense undue hardships to the local people, especially the poor.

  • The use of stone (local materials) at this juncture will help put breaks to carting in of bricks from the plains and adjoining states, thus reducing the destruction of the valuable agriculture topsoil and greatly reducing the pollution caused by burning of diesel in carting.

It would only be appropriate to mention at this point that even more appealing and visually more attractive much talked about prefabricated shelters made of non-metallic materials such as plastics have many more drawbacks when used as mid-term or long-term shelters.

The table below summarizes the salient points:

    1. Closest to the local building system that people are familiar with, and so requires no special skills
    2. 100% salvageable and recyclable
    3. Amenable to site-specific adjustments done at the site. Considering that majority of construction of mid-term shelters will be done in the terrace fields, the depth of which always vary along their length, the adjustability is a very important attribute.
    4. Thermally more comfortable and, hence, more suitable for a moderately long stay
    5. Rat resistant due to RR walls
    6. Permits modifications as and when desired for adding conveniences
    7. Allow greater contribution from the house owner
    8. Significant portion of the cost creates much needed local employment
    9. Use of masonry and carpentry will be seen as beginning of the reconstruction process, and will help rebuild peoples’ confidence for the permanent house construction at a later date.
    10. Masonry walls top will provide an extra built-in shelf for storage
    11. Floor raised through 6″ against the walls with plastic sheet embedded throughout will help eliminate dampness from capillary action
    12. Graph indicating the speed of construction will be relatively flat at the onset since at the onset the work cannot start before stone for walls is collected. Beyond that it will purely depend upon the number of masons and carpenters on hand.
    13. The stone based construction will help set the tone of reconstruction of permanent houses. In other words, this will help go green in the rehabilitation phase by eliminating the bricks being transported over long distances.
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