These emergency shelters can later be converted into permanent homes

When a natural disaster occurs, aid organizations typically send emergency relief tents to those who have lost their home as a result. While extremely helpful, these tents usually last a year at max, after which they become no longer functional and end up in the landfill.

In a bid to extend the lifecycle of these shelters and avoid unnecessary waste, nonprofits are now testing a new type of emergency tent — one that can be built within hours and later reinforced with local materials to become a more permanent home.

“We can ship in something that provides emergency relief, but then you can upgrade it locally,” says Johan Karlsson, managing director of Better Shelter, the organization behind the new type of tent, called Structure.

Featuring a simple frame that can be covered with a tarp and eventually be recovered with other materials, the new tent costs four times less than previous shelters, at $365 per piece. And because funding for humanitarian shelters is limited, campaigners are asking donors to pledge a dollar a day for a year to sponsor a home.

Once the shelter arrives where it’s needed, it can be used right away but the design allows for it to be later strengthened with local materials including bamboo, sorghum, or twigs mixed with clay. Rather than shipping in a readymade home from donors, purchasing those materials for on-site construction can also create local jobs.

“You can stimulate the local economy,” says Karlsson. “And the investment that you make in a humanitarian response to save lives also can link into early recovery.”

According to the organization, when upgraded with local materials, the structure is expected to last as long as 10 years. And the shelters can also be stored locally before a disaster occurs, with 180 units able to fit into a single shipping container. Better Shelter is currently working with nonprofits in a number of countries to test the design.

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