By Kate Hawley
Team Lead of The Sheltering From a Gathering Storm Program
LEED AP. Economics Research Associate, USA
Why explore shelter systems? How important a role does shelter play in the realm of development? It’s an interesting thing to think about, really. In our homes, we work, educate, practice, play, and grow – and we seek refuge during extreme events. Shelter to many is the single largest single investment we make during our lifetime. Not surprisingly, shelter accounts for the highest monetary losses in climate related disasters?
That’s why we, the Sheltering Research Team, investigated the role that shelter plays in the daily lives of low-income households and how these households are making decisions to adapt to the growing threat of climate change. Our team investigated the impacts of key climate hazards experienced in South Asia and Southeast Asia.
- In Pakistan, we explored what extreme temperatures might do to households in locations just outside cities.
- In India, we looked at that role of flooding and how households are already choosing to raise the levels of their houses.
- In Vietnam, we investigated impacts of the typhoons on poor households in peri-urban areas.
Through these hazard lenses, we were able to understand how households experienced past events and with the help of our climate science team, we were able to look at what those impacts might look like in the future as climate becomes more and more of a threat. Drawing upon consultations with local households, city planners, and key partners, our research team identified strategies that households are currently employing to prevent losses of their assets, both to their house as well as to their goods.
Risk Reduction Framing: The graphic below reflects the interactions at the individual shelter level. Read more here
Call for Innnovation: Resilient Housing Design Competition in India and Vietnam
In Vietnam and India, we hosted The Resilient Housing Design Competition, which charged architects, engineers and planners to think outside their traditional boxes and design culturally acceptable, innovative and resilient designs. These avenues produced a plethora of ideas that households can employ to reduce their overall losses by combatting flooding and typhoons. From there, we pushed forward to find out which strategies would be the most cost-effective, with consideration of when and how these strategies could be implemented.
Interestingly enough, the resilient housing designs that won the competition were both cost-effective in flooding and typhoon scenarios. In Vietnam, the housing design included changes in the roof design, inclusion of a safe room, and more (see the winning design here). These added features increased costs, but the scenario tests resulted in high economic returns from investment. Considering the fact that Da Nang experiences typhoons every two to three years, which can be very damaging for households, this investment is worthwhile. In India, we expanded the potential strategies that households utilize to reduce flooding impacts and investigated different options including a climate resilient house (see the winning design here).
—Winning design from Vietnam
In almost all of the strategies, the returns to investments are high, resulting in most households already choosing to adopt [many of] these strategies, even when government incentives do not exist. In Pakistan, temperature increases proved to be more challenging. Most interventions that try to reduce temperature in a house can only reduce those temperatures experienced during the height of the day. From the research, the climate science showed us that temperature minimums (the lowest temperatures throughout the day) are not decreasing at all. In fact, they are projected to increase in the next 20 to 50 years, which will put continued stress on households to adapt. The only current way to reduce temperature minimums is through active cooling interventions (e.g., air-conditioning). In almost all of the cases, the strategies for mitigating temperature is only effective in the hottest location in Pakistan; however, with climate impacts added, these technologies become important for other locations. The research shows that temperature increases due to climate change will be devastating. Heat reduction techniques are only cost-effective because the heat expenditures that average households pay out will increase, not because the technologies become cheaper. Most of these households will not be able to afford to cool their homes.
Interventions at Work
We are seeing households in Vietnam adopt these resilient typhoon designs through a program facilitated by the Rockefeller Foundation. The Vietnam case shows us that if households have access to subsidized loans from the government, they willingly take that loan and invest it in the construction of safer shelter designs—protecting their assets from future climate disasters. In India, many of the households have raised their plinth, and added shelves and hooks on walls to raise valuables out of the floodwater’s reach, but those who can’t afford these strategies are left behind.
As a research team, we chose to investigate shelter because of its prominent role in all of our lives. We can save people’s lives, educate our children, start our business and grow our ideas if we provide safe, climate resilient shelters for our communities. This research proves that smart designs and innovative strategies might be our best chance towards climate resilience. But, also, certain climate stresses challenge our current set of strategies, and we must challenge ourselves to develop new pathways for us to adapt.
 Comerio, 1997
For more information and access to all of the 30+ resources from this program (discussion papers, synthesis report, case studies, policy briefs, technical reports) please visit: http://www.i-s-e-t.org/SHELTER