Guidance Note on Recovery: Shelter

31 Dec 2010


The document provides a range of options to address the shelter needs of victims in the aftermath of a disaster. Shelter in the disaster recovery context includes housing solutions that are permanent, sustainable, hazard resilient, culturally acceptable and environmentally friendly.


There is currently an abundance of documents, plans and policies that address common issues faced in the mitigation, preparedness and relief phases of natural disaster management. Yet for disaster recovery planners and policy makers, there is no cohesive documented body of knowledge. It is conceded that preventive measures are vital to reducing the more costly efforts of responding to disasters. Nevertheless, in the post disaster situation, the availability of knowledge products reflecting past practices and lessons learned is critical for effective and sustainable recovery. Unquestionably, a wealth of experience and expertise exists within governments and organizations; however the majority of this knowledge is never documented, compiled, nor shared. Filling this knowledge gap is a key objective of the International Recovery Platform and The Guidance Note on Recovery: Shelter, along with its companion booklets, is an initial step in documenting, collecting and sharing disaster recovery experiences and lessons. IRP hopes that this collection of the successes and failures of past experiences in disaster recovery will serve to inform the planning and implementation of future recovery initiatives. The aim is not to recommend actions, but to place before the reader a menu of options.


The Guidance Note on Recovery: Shelter is primarily intended for use by policymakers, planners, and implementers of local, regional and national government bodies interested or engaged in facilitating a more responsive, sustainable, and risk-reducing recovery process. Yet, IRP recognizes that governments are not the sole actors in disaster recovery and believes that the experiences collected in this document can benefit the many other partners working together to build back better.


The Guidance Note on Recovery: Shelter draws from documented experiences of past and present recovery efforts, collected through a desk review and consultations with relevant experts. These experiences and lessons learned are classified into nine major issues:

1) Shelter Recovery Transitions

2) Site Selection

3) Project Implementation Method

4) Building Design

5) Legal Implications

6) Technical Assistance / Expertise

7) Construction Materials

8) Construction Labor

9) Maintaining Lives, Livelihoods, and Community Character

The materials are presented in the form of cases. The document provides analysis of many of the cases, highlighting key lessons and noting points of caution and clarification. The case study format has been chosen in order to provide a richer description of recovery approaches, thus permitting the reader to draw other lessons or conclusions relative to a particular context.

It is recognized that, while certain activities or projects presented in this Guidance Note have met with success in a given context, there is no guarantee that the same activity will generate similar results across all contexts. Cultural norms, socioeconomic contexts, gender relations and myriad other factors will influence the process and outcome of any planned activity. Therefore, the following case studies are not intended as prescriptive solutions to be applied, but rather as experiences to inspire, to generate contextually relevant ideas, and where appropriate, to adapt and apply.

There exist a number of published documents that recovery planners will find invaluable in building their efforts. It is our intention for this guidance note to complement rather than replace or duplicate these resources. To the extent possible, this document is consistent with these existing publications. Of special mention are two titles that are notable in both their comprehensive coverage of shelter recovery topics and the amount of institutional knowledge and experience held by their authors. The first is “Shelter after Disasters: Strategies for Transitional Settlement and Reconstruction”. This document is the result a project of the Shelter Centre and UNOCHA. This publication is a revision of the key guidelines “Shelter after Disaster: Guidelines for Assistance” that was originally published by UNDRO in 1982. This document focuses on immediate relief and early recovery, and as such includes more information on camps and temporary housing. It is available at:

The second document is the World Bank title “Safer Homes, Stronger Communities”. This is an extensive, comprehensive resource for practitioners, policy makers, and anyone engaged in housing recovery. This document is especially valuable for its clear explanations of the process of securing recovery funding. It includes examples for all topics related to housing recovery.

Another resource worth pointing out for its case studies is the IASC Shelter Projects 2008 document. This document profiles an extensive collection of practical experience on a number of shelter reconstruction topics.

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