Shelters in refugee camps, mostly tents, usually deteriorate within six months, battered by sun, wind and rain. Refugees often stay in camps for years. Swedish home products manufacturing giant IKEA and the United Nations (UN) Refugee Agency and Refugee Housing Unit joined forces in 2008 to build a better home for people already struggling with the devastation of disasters and warfare. “The Indian Ocean tsunami was still a fresh memory, and ‘Building back better’ was the motto among our humanitarian partners,” says Johan Karlsson, project manager for the Refugee Housing Unit.
The prototype of the shelter is being tested in an Ethiopian refugee camp. “It is important that the shelter is lightweight enough so that it can be easily and cost efficiently transported, but strong enough to withstand the harsh conditions of refugee camps,” says Karlsson. IKEA’s expertise with flat-pack shipping and lightweight materials inspired the design of a trailer-like house with a curved roof made of metal tubing and panels that provide privacy and insulation. A net sail, interlaced with aluminum and polyolefin strips, provides 70 percent solar reflection and cooling during the day and heat conservation at night. On top is a solar panel laminated on thin plastic film, providing sufficient energy to power an indoor light fixture and a USB outlet for a mobile phone. Currently, each unit costs $10,000 to manufacture, but the partnership plans to get the price down to $1,000 once the product is in mass production. For details, visit ikeafoundation.org.