For shelter practitioners in international organizations, working in natural disaster responses, there are strong pressures and incentives to build back “better” (or “smarter”, or “safer”), and subsequently, to interpret “better” as a question of structural safety. This often leads to hastily agreed approaches, isolated from host government and affected populations, that define and assess “risk” in terms of structural robustness, rather than other factors relevant to people’s safety, dignity and wellbeing.
Shelter programmes which disproportionately prioritize structural safety potentially miss or exacerbate risks which are more relevant to affected men, women, girls and boys, such as losing access to livelihoods, social exclusion or exploitation. Structural solutions in isolation will be insufficient to ensure vulnerable people are safer than they were pre-disaster. This is particularly true for marginalized groups, who do not have decision-making power (or ownership) over shelter structures, or fewer choices on where they are able to settle.
To address this, shelter practitioners need to rethink their role in defining what is “better”, by revising how the shelter sector currently assesses “risk” and “success”, in ways that transfer decision-making power in the hands of affected people, instead of largely being kept in the hands of professional shelter practitioners.
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Thank you to Shelter Projects for contributing this learning.
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