Emergency settlements are often set up to provide temporary shelter, food, and medical aid to those affected by the disaster until they can rebuild their lives. These settlements are a “Band-Aid” solution that helps to alleviate the immediate suffering of those affected, but what if they add to the trauma by exposing communities to a new set of disasters? In a recent paper published in City, Territory and Architecture, authors propose a design model that gives refugee communities a chance to achieve greater resilience and self-sustainability during crisis situations and enhance their quality of life.
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As of March 28th, 2023, with more than 57,000 people who died after a magnitude 7.8 earthquake that hit Turkey on February 6th 2023, Turkey has been left with infrastructure and facilities damage, injured and displaced refugees. Like any earthquake that reaches this magnitude, the survivors will have to cope with the series of aftershocks with magnitude varying between 7.5 and less, lasting for a longer time frame.The question that arises here is where all these survivors who have lost their home go and live again when there is no possibility to rebuild.
Instead of being viewed as a collection of shelters, refugee camps should be seen as urban settlements as they are also vulnerable to the same pressures and more. We believe that resilient emergency settlements can be a solution to most, if not all, of these pressures.
Be it earthquakes or any other natural or man-made disaster, including climatic extreme events, political conflicts, or wars, people suffer. When your home is lost, hope is a tough word. Emergency settlements are often set up to provide temporary shelter, food, and medical aid to those affected by the disaster until they can rebuild their lives. These settlements are a “Band-Aid” solution that helps to alleviate the immediate suffering of those affected by the disaster, but what if they add to the trauma by exposing communities to a new set of disasters? What if there is more conflict, more risk of natural disasters, and more probability of man-made disaster events due to the planning and design within these settlements?
On one hand, these settlements suffer from conflicts and environmental pressures and on the other hand, they also bear the inadequacies of services and facilities. This increases the refugee population’s susceptibility to climatic and environmental extremes as well as a poor quality of life.
Emergency settlements are often designed to be of a temporary nature but end up adopting a more permanent status by becoming informal settlements. In our paper published in City, Territory, and Architecture, we tried to understand one such informal settlement set up as an emergency camp, the Dalhamyie settlement in Bekaa, Lebanon. We found that these settlements are exposed to multiple risks.
External risks such as floods, storms (climate-induced disaster risk), eviction threats, and conflicts, internal risks, on the other hand, are present due to the inherent planning of the settlement itself. These include unplanned and organic growth, substandard shelters, a lack of physical and social infrastructure, a lack of a decent livelihood, and food insecurity. Just like an urban settlement, these camps also face the resultant challenges of waste disposal, water contamination, and various health hazards. The household expenditure of the refugees in the entire Bekaa valley is majorly on the food, debt repayment and the health services.
This shows that instead of being viewed as a collection of shelters, refugee camps should be seen as urban settlements as they are also vulnerable to the same pressures and more. We believe that resilient emergency settlements can be a solution to most, if not all, of these pressures.
We are not proposing that these emergency settlements should be planned as cities that are there to stay permanently, but we profess the idea of resilient cities on emergency shelters to better mitigate the pressures by designing flexible structures that can be shifted or moved.
About the Authors of the research
Pallavi Tiwari is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Physical Planning, School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi, India. She is also a doctoral scholar at the same institute with a research focus on environmental health risk assessment in urban planning. She holds a Masters in Planning with specialization in Urban Planning and Bachelors in Architecture.
Lübna Amir is a Professor in Earth Sciences at the University of Sciences and Technology Houari Boumediene, in Algiers, Algeria. Her research is mostly on natural disasters (earthquakes, tsunami) with a special focus on vulnerabilities and environmental issues. She holds a PhD degree on Geosciences (ULP, Nancy, France) and a Master degree on Geophysics (IPGS, Strasbourg, France).
Nibal Al Azzawi is an Architect practicing in UAE. She is a graduate architect from Architectural engineering Department University of Sharjah, Sharjah, UAE.