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Shelter & Infrastructure

Shelter & Infrastructure

Why Shelter & Infrastructure?


Basic shelter is one of the key elements of human survival along with food, water, and clothing.  In many environments, people can only survive a few days without adequate protection against the physical elements.


The Sphere Project [1] states:


“Shelter is a critical determinant for survival in the initial stages of a disaster.  Beyond survival, shelter is necessary to provide security and personal safety, protection from the climate, and enhanced resistance to ill health and disease.”


Once survival is assured for the most vulnerable, then the focus shifts to rebuilding and repairing infrastructure, such as public buildings, community facilities, roads, and bridges.

 Shelter & Infrastructure activities occur as part of emergency relief responses and also longer-term rehabilitations. Typically, an emergency response involves a temporary approach, such as providing plastic sheeting to build a basic shelter. These life-saving shelter solutions also provide life-sustaining hope to people in times of crisis. A rehabilitation project might provide support to construct a lasting and permanent home, which helps to restore independence and dignity to our beneficiaries.


Medair’s Shelter & Infrastructure Sector
Clinic building in Afghanistan

Clinic building in Afghanistan


Medair began doing shelter work in Northern Iraq in 1991, and since then it has become one of our main sectors of humanitarian aid. Projects have been run in Chechnya, North Ossetia, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Mozambique, Iran, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).


When Medair begins a country programme after a natural disaster, shelter is often the most urgent beneficiary need. The most basic forms of shelter Medair provides are plastic sheeting and tents.

The provision of a household shelter can be simple and temporary, or complex and permanent. A simple solution might involve distributing construction materials so that families can build their own temporary shelters. This was the approach taken after the Pakistan earthquake, when freezing winter conditions were approaching. By working alongside the community, Medair was able to develop a shelter kit that met the specific needs of the beneficiaries. In Sri Lanka, Medair built robust transitional shelters that could last for two years. We also repair and reconstruct permanent homes, as we did in the Kosovo crisis and after the Bam earthquake.


Medair’s multisectoral approach to humanitarian aid compels us to consider all the needs of a community, particularly when improvements to the infrastructure can provide lasting results.  In past years, we have responded to major infrastructure needs by rehabilitating and reconstructing health centres, schools, airstrips, bridges, and access roads.

When a disaster has damaged the infrastructure of a community, Medair ensures that any rehabilitation efforts mitigate against future risk. The humanitarian community calls it “Building Back Better.” In Pakistan, 11,000 people received training on building earthquake-resistant homes. In Madagascar, Medair continues to provide training to ensure that wells are protected from flood damage when cyclones hit.



Core Strengths of Medair’s Shelter & Infrastructure Sector


For over 15 years, Medair has delivered Shelter & Infrastructure solutions to people affected by disaster and crisis, in different climates and terrains around the world.


Our experience has helped us to be innovative in providing shelter solutions. In both Sri Lanka and Pakistan, Medair developed a temporary shelter design in partnership with beneficiaries. In both cases, the design ended up being quite simple and elegant. It required the use of locally available construction materials as well as recycled materials (such as rubble) from the damaged homes of beneficiaries. After running programmes in Bam and then Pakistan, Medair now has the experience and confidence to employ innovations that allow us to construct shelters that can withstand moderate earthquakes.

Expert Personnel

Emergency Shelter & Infrastructure programmes can be relatively simple, but they can also be quite complex when they involve permanent reconstruction work. Medair recognises the importance of working with trained and experienced personnel in this sector. For instance, by recruiting people with specific reconstruction expertise for our Iran team, we were able to support the reconstruction of 500 earthquake-resistant permanent homes.


Medair strives to work in close cooperation with governments, with other agencies, and with local suppliers. In Iran, Medair supported the local administration and worked in accordance with official policy. Although this was sometimes difficult for Medair, it was greatly appreciated by the government, and in the end, allowed for a very productive partnership.

Community Participation

As in all of our sectors of expertise, Medair consults with our beneficiaries throughout the Shelter & Infrastructure process. We place a high priority on developing quality relationships and honest dialogue. In most cases, the beneficiaries are the ones who construct their shelters, so it is vital they play a role in planning the design.


Case Study: Sri Lanka

After the tsunami, Medair provided transitional shelters for 2,500 families (up to 25,000 people). The shelters had a basic iron frame, with walls made of tin sheets, and palm leaves on the roof to reduce the heat. Concrete floors and electricity were added later.

Case Study: Pakistan

After consulting with survivors, Medair provided temporary shelter kits to 6,408 families (up to 64,000 people). The team built a model temporary shelter in each village to demonstrate how villagers should build their own shelter, and how they should use the rubble of their destroyed homes as building materials. Medair provided sturdy tents to 1,273 families at lower elevations, where snow was less likely to fall. Medair also rehabilitated 24 health centres to make them temporarily functional until they could be rebuilt the following spring.


[1] Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response. Started in 1997 by a group of humanitarian NGOs and the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement

Other Sectors of Expertise

Health Services
Water & Sanitation