Shelter and Infrastructure

Newly displaced persons have often been forced to leave their homes at short notice. Shelter interventions, however, offer more than just a roof overhead. Access to shelter can be life-saving and supports the dignity, health, privacy and agency of affected populations, while simultaneously limiting exposure to further protection risks. To ensure maximum impact of shelter interventions, shelter interventions should be protection mainstreamed and build synergies with activities in other sectors. This coordination of sector interventions will happen in the NFI/Shelter cluster and inter-cluster and DRC should strive to participate in and influence cluster decisions. DRC is an active member of the Shelter Cluster at global, regional and national levels, as well as various thematic/technical Working Groups.

DRC implements a broad range of shelter activities. A particular focus is addressing shelter needs in line with SPHERE standards and according to age, gender and diversity. To the extent possible emergency shelter interventions should be designed with a view to supporting the transition to more durable options. As with NFIs, shelter materials can be sourced locally, nationally, internationally or through an already established pipeline. In an emergency, speed and cost-effectiveness are key factors when determining the most appropriate sourcing channel.

For DRC Shelter also includes community infrastructure. This covers small scale structures and technical facilities that are critical for sustaining lives and livelihoods at community level. Due to ongoing conflict and/or lack of public resources such infrastructure is often damaged or temporarily occupied by displaced populations. In an emergency setting, key infrastructural needs are identified by community leaders (both in host community and displaced) and prioritised according to their potential impact on access to basic services and livelihoods opportunities: often such projects are labelled as Quick Impact Projects or QIPs. A key objective is furthermore to support social cohesion between host and displaced communities. To the extent possible National and local authorities should be involved in discussions on community infrastructure.


Shelter Interventions in Emergencies

The objective of shelter interventions is to save lives and provide physical safety, privacy and dignity to those affected. It provides a shield from the weather and a space to live and store belongings.

The most appropriate modality for shelter interventions should be determined according to the displacement context, market situation, existing shelter options, locally available materials, cultural norms, environmental impact, aiming to support affected communities where they are, and to improve living conditions in a protection-sensitive manner. Appropriate adaptations for people with disabilities should be included and community led interventions should be encouraged, throughout design and implementation.

On a running basis DRC must assess the appropriateness and quality of the items distributed or shelters constructed, the effectiveness of the distribution or construction methodology, and the protection risks encountered before, during and after shelter interventions. This entails the active participation of affected populations throughout an intervention.

Cash transfer programming should always be considered instead of in-kind, as a more dignified and flexible option. A number of preconditions have to be in place before cash is a feasible option. As mentioned in the common challenges section the sourcing of shelter inputs can be difficult, which is why DRC should always consider sourcing from a common pipeline if possible.


In the emergency phase, key aspects of DRC’s Shelter and Infrastructure programming include:

  • Undertaking independent or interagency needs assessments focused on needs and vulnerabilities. A useful list of cluster-aligned NFI/Shelter indicators is available from the OCHA managed Indicator Registry.
  • Construction of temporary/communal shelters: This is often a first line response for a large displacement before household shelters can be provided. As per SPHERE standards, the minimum of 3.5m2 of covered floor space per person should be followed (if at all possible).
  • Sourcing and distribution of tents, housing units, prefabs or basic shelter kits: Shelter models and kit contents should be discussed with affected populations and agreed with other shelter actors in order to ensure relevance and non-disparity in assistance.
  • Sourcing and distribution of materials/shelter kits to repair damaged houses. See above
  • Distribution of cash or vouchers in lieu of in-kind or as support to pay rent
  • Build or arrange emergency housing. As far as possible, this should be community led, with materials being given to the households to construct their own housing. Where specialist skills are needed, those labourers should be as far as possible recruited from the affected population.
  • Improve living conditions in collective shelters and public buildings, potentially as part of cash for work schemes or through the distribution of kits (e.g. sealing off kits and winterisation efforts) or cash for small works to be conducted by the households themselves.
  • Construction or rehabilitation of community infrastructure including community access roads, minor structures, police posts, schools, health facilities, community centres, socio-economic infrastructure (markets), community-based water supply and sanitation.
  • Maintenance of shelters in camps or informal settlements, including fire safety and site planning. This should be led by affected populations supported by the CCCM actor.

The impact of shelter interventions is very tangible. The relevance and quality of the intervention should be assessed through post intervention monitoring and the setup of complaints/feedback mechanisms. Links with protection and CCCM actors should be maintained in order to measure impact on the living environment: shelter interventions are not simply a matter of providing a roof, but is an essential part of a more holistic approach aiming to improve the protective environment for affected population. As such, protection concerns should be included in monitoring, learning and evaluation of shelter interventions.


Common Challenges in Shelter in Emergencies

  • Logistics and procurement. DRC often meets challenges with sourcing. Local procurement is often problematic related to quantity, quality and/or environmental degradation. Sourcing of shelter items can also be cumbersome due to customs regulations, procurement thresholds as well as the large quantities and limited transport options in many emergencies.
  • As with other sector interventions, variations in the quality of shelter can be a push/pull factor for secondary or tertiary displacement. Coordination and harmonization of standards is a key challenge in shelter interventions.
  • Different shelters have different advantages and disadvantages. The adaptation to climatic conditions (floods, arid/heat, cold) is often a challenging activity that requires timely “seasonal” follow up and additional funding to ensure the relevance of shelter interventions.
  • Legal issues, especially for informal settlements, which may be considered ‘illegal’ by local authorities or by private land-owners. This increases the risk of expulsion or damage claims towards shelter agencies working to improve collective shelters. Advocacy for legal stay and access to land is a key protection activity of shelter interventions.
  • National construction regulations: in many countries a legal framework will specify the technical standards relating to various aspects of shelter and infrastructure interventions. It is essential to have full knowledge of all relevant national regulations before project implementation.
  • Ensuring the quality of the work in community-led implementation of infrastructure projects.
  • Shelter interventions are often input heavy and reliant on local materials in the emergency phase. Sourcing poles, timber, clay and other local resources can have a long term environmental impact that must be mitigated.


Core guidance and standards

The following tools and materials are available to support the design, implementation and monitoring of Shelter and Community Infrastructure interventions:


Additional reading



Contact the HQ Emergency Unit: [email protected]