Ikea builds refugee structures

Plastic structures may replace tents in refugee camps

October 27, 2013

Some Somali refugees at a camp in Ethiopia are now living in plastic huts supplied by Swedish furniture maker IKEA.

The Swedish furniture giant had 13 newly developed huts erected on the Ethiopian savanna at the Kobe refugee camp last August. It’s a test case for the company, and if the IKEA huts pass, they could soon offer refugees around the world a better home than conventional tents.

The initiative is being undertaken by IKEA and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to meet the UNHCR’s demand to house 10.4 million refugees worldwide, according to Der Spiegel.

As Christian Science Monitor reports, the huts are made of hard, plastic- an upgrade from the canvas tents typically found on the Kobe camp.

IKEA says the huts are much more durable than tents, which usually last six months to a year depending on conditions. Olivier Delarue of the United Nations Relief Agency said they also offer “emotional benefits like dignity and privacy.”

IKEA’s shelters come flat packed, making for the easy transport of lightweight plastic shelters at once. Assembly of the 188 square foot hut is easy. Five people can sleep comfortably inside, which is twice the size of the regulation refugee tent. The homes also have solar paneled roofing, allowing the in habitants to generate their own electricity, extinguishing the need for candles or kerosene lamps. The roof also helps to deflect solar reflection by 70 percent, keeping the interior cool during the day and warmer at night.

Planners hope that the huts’ assembly problems will soon all be ironed out. IKEA designers have promised it would be possible to piece together the small houses, by hand and without any tools, in just four hours.

IKEA is testing the structures in additional locations, in hopes of expediting the trial phase to meet the pressing demand to provide shelter for refugees from Syria.

The UNHCR estimates that in 2012, an average of 23,000 people per day were forced to leave their home and seek shelter elsewhere. 80 percent of the world’s refugees are hosted in developing countries.

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