4. What to do: response options

There is a standard IFRC repair kit but care should be taken to ensure that the contents meet the needs of the families and that the contents are culturally appropriate. The standard kit (see link below) contains:

  • Tools (shovel, hammer, handsaw, hoe, shears etc.),
  • Fixings (nails, tie wire etc.)
  • Two tarpaulins (6mx4m) and rope.

While the tarps and rope may be suitable for distribution at a household level, the tools may be lower priority and could be shared between a number of families. Most items, apart from the tarps, will probably be available in the local market and feasible to be sourced locally and in-country. Specifications for all items listed in the shelter repair kit are available on the IFRC emergency items catalogue and on the emergency shelter kit guidelines.

Other building materials such as CGI sheeting, timber and bamboo are frequently included into the contents of the Emergency Shelter Kit.



Shelter fixing kit

Galvanised nails, roofing nails and tie wire are often among the most requested items as they allow families to rebuild using salvaged materials. These can be collected into a ‘fixing kit’ that complements the tools in the Emergency Shelter kit. Critical items that allow the family to comply with key build-back-safer messages – such as cyclone strapping – should certainly be considered.

The CARE UK shelter team can advise on suitable items and quantities to be included in the fixing kit.

General considerations on sourcing of shelter and NFI items

As part of the EPP process, the CO may have pre-identified suppliers and this should be checked in the EPP in use. A rapid market survey should be conducted to evaluate the capacity of local/national vendors prior to considering the international procurement options. However, local procurement is often not feasible in emergency contexts due to limited availability or poor quality of shelter and NFI items, and a combination of sources will be required to achieve the right quantity, quality and speed of delivery.


NFIs are the most common initial emergency shelter response and to be effective should be distributed as soon as possible. Depending on the needs assessment a General Household Support Package might include:

  • Clothes – especially in cold climates, or if winter is approaching
  • Bedding – sheets, blankets, mattresses, mosquito nets
  • Cooking sets
  • Kitchen utensils
  • Buckets and jerry cans
  • Fuel

This is likely to complement, but should not overlap, a hygiene kit and/or a dignity kit that would normally be distributed by the WASH sector. Beware, for instance, duplication of jerry cans and mosquito nets, and ensure that distribution of these items is supported with the necessary hygiene promotion/training on proper use (e.g. jerry can cleaning). If advice is needed on jerry can or mosquito net specifications this can be obtained from the CI Emergency WASH Team – in particular it is important to follow SPHERE guidance on water containers, and to invest in Long-Lasting Insecticide Treated mosquito nets.  It could also be combined with the hygiene kit to simplify logistics and reduce the number of distributions.

A NFI kit might also include tarpaulins and rope. Two 6 x 4m tarpaulins and 30m 6mm rope per household is considered to be standard.

NFI Technical Working groups are normally set up within the national shelter cluster fora to discuss the technical aspects, specifications and adaptation of standard kits to the local preferences and needs in consultation with all sector partners.

For much more on NFIs see:


Cash transfer can be used as an integral part of different response modalities – in other words, cash fits well with self-recovery, an NFI winterisation programme or a number of other possibilities. It can be combined with some materials, tools and fixings. It is normally conditional, with the distribution divided into a number of tranches conditional on construction reaching a certain level and standard. It is rarely sufficient to rebuild a house, relying on the family to find the shortfall.

A cash response provides the beneficiary family with choice and ‘agency’. The cash can be spent on materials or labour according to their needs and wishes. It is important that specialist knowledge on cash programming is sought if the capacity does not exist in the CO.

For more on cash, visit the CALP website:


This publication by CRS has examples of cash programming:



Vouchers are an alternative to cash often used for NFI distributions. The beneficiary is given a voucher that can be redeemed for specified items in previously identified shops. It limits choice, but provides a greater measure of control and reduces the risk of inflationary prices.

Shopping list or purchase plan

This has rarely been used in practice but may have potential if the conditions and circumstances are suitable. Each family makes a selection (a shopping list) from a previously designed list of shelter materials. CARE is then responsible for the collective purchase and delivery of the items to the family. This gives the advantage of lower prices and economic delivery through bulk purchasing. Individual families don’t have to make multiple trips to purchase materials.

Increasingly CARE is advocating an approach that supports the self-recovery process and technical assistance and the promotion of a few simple ‘build-back-safer’ messages is an essential component. However it is not confined to self-recovery programmes and can be an integral part of transitional shelter, construction, repair etc. At its heart is the need to closely accompany the community in the process of recovery to encourage the promotion of safer, better, more durable house construction. Training alone is rarely enough. Community accompaniment and household level support is essential. The technical accompaniment will frequently focus on the promotion of 4 or 5 key ‘build-back-safer’ messages that may be standardised through the cluster technical team.

Roving teams

A roving team consisting of community social mobilisers and technical advisors (also from the community) can support families in the construction of their homes and adherence to key build-back-safer messages. A gender balance is essential, preferably one that challenges the stereotype of construction being the man’s domain.

Information, Education & Communication (IEC) material

The cluster is likely to develop standard technical guidance in the form of printed sheets and posters. However the CARE team should give careful consideration to the most effective way of communicating given the complexity of some technical issues and possible varying level of literacy within the community. IEC material from a previous disaster response in a different context is most unlikely to be appropriate. There are two important elements: 1) what are the messages we wish to communicate and 2) what is the best approach to communicating those messages.

The affected families are always the first responders and the most important stakeholder. Inevitably recovery starts on the first day after a disaster and families start to rebuild without support from the international community, relying on their own resources. In many major disasters 80% or more of the affected population ‘self-recover’. CARE is a leading proponent of support to self-recovery and the shelter team at CARE UK can provide assistance to country offices if a self-recovery approach is considered appropriate. Some considerations of self-recovery are:

  • The approach is likely to involve more enabling and less construction
  • Each family will exercise choice in how, when and where they rebuild their homes
  • Technical assistance, build-back-safer key messages and community accompaniment are key to leaving a lasting legacy of improved and safer construction.
  • Sector integration and a holistic approach adds value – especially WASH and livelihoods
  • The entire community can be considered, and not just a targeted selection of beneficiaries.
  • A gender sensitive approach should always be employed, with attention to the empowerment of women and girls.

Sometimes referred to as t-shelters, temporary solutions are a common form of response. However consider carefully whether this is the most appropriate approach: it can be wasteful of resources that would otherwise be put towards a permanent solution and frequently ‘temporary’ houses become sub-standard permanent houses as families are unable to up-grade or rebuild. Quality and engineering standards are as important for temporary as they are for permanent houses.

It is unusual for CARE to carry out major house building programmes. There are a number of reasons for this:

  • Lack of available funds
  • With limited funds, the significance of a housing programme is reduced and normally limited to a small targeted beneficiary group.
  • The economic benefit normally goes to a large contractor often outside of the disaster affected area.
  • Quality is difficult to assure.
  • It is difficult to build-in DRR and resilience, or to improve the capacity of the local builders.

If construction is deemed appropriate then there are different delivery options, each with a variety of pros and cons. These should be carefully evaluated:

  • Direct labour – CARE will act as the contractor.
  • Community labour – the community is responsible for the delivery.
  • Contract labour – normally a contractor from outside the affected community.
  • Self-build – this has similarities to self-recovery programming.

In all cases, it is considered preferable that an ‘owner-driven response’ is used.

Collective shelters are often used when displacement occurs inside a city, or when displaced people move to an urban area. However they are equally common in rural settings.  They include existing structures, such as community centres, town halls, schools, disused factories and unfinished buildings. They can also be purpose-built (eg the ‘barracks’ in Aceh, after the Indian Ocean tsunami; ‘bunkhouses’ in the Philippines). Collective shelters are usually only appropriate for the short term while other settlement options are arranged. Collective shelters should have appropriate services and support, including conditions to ensure dignity, privacy and adequate sanitary conditions.

CARE may support communities in collective centres by:

  1. assessing the suitability of the building, and providing plans and materials to improve it, for example, dividing a school classroom into bedrooms
  2. providing cooking equipment, health care, water and sanitation services.
  3. supporting governments and communities in management of the site.

CARE can support communities through advocacy:

  • The right to transitional settlement
  • A safe location with access to services
  • An equitable and efficient compensation process
  • Leadership, strategy and continuity of policy from those responsible for coordinating the response
  • The right to return
  • The right to own land
  • Property restitution
  • Appropriate and affordable building standards
  • Access to materials and labour
  • Property and land ownership in the names of male and female households
  • Property and land ownership protection for vulnerable groups.

Urban areas tend to have greater social diversity, higher levels of mobility and less social cohesion than rural areas. In cities the informal settlements populations can be composed of rural migrants, refugees and displaced people with different socio-cultural backgrounds. Chronic vulnerabilities of the poor urban residents may overlap with the on-going humanitarian needs of the internally displaced or refugee populations.

Neighbourhood, or area based, approaches have become increasingly recognised as a comprehensive modality for working in urban areas during or after a crisis. This seeks to offer a way of integrating different sector approaches at multiple levels in the community, involving a wide range of stakeholders, and strengthening sustainability of interventions by bringing closer together emergency, recovery, and longer term development support.

In an urban context, area-based approaches typically share common characteristics: they target areas defined by socio-economic boundaries (rather than geographical limits), and they adopt a multi-sector and participatory approach. This should also be implemented on multiple levels –individual, household and community. For example, upgrades to housing are complemented by improvements of the neighbourhood infrastructure (water network, drainage and sewage systems, public lighting or electricity lines) and rehabilitation of communal areas and open spaces (footpaths, social gathering places, playgrounds, sport facilities…). The physical improvement of the built environment is just one aspect of the overall rehabilitation of the neighbourhood: livelihoods regeneration, GBV prevention, health and DRR are also addressed through vocational trainings and financial support to the small and medium enterprises, community engagement and awareness raising, capacity building of grassroots organisations and local authorities, participatory urban planning and legal support.

Although it is unrealistic to assume that a single organisation using a neighbourhood approach methodology can address all the infra-structure, social and economic needs in an area, interventions can still be multi-sector in addressing the most urgent needs (shelter, WASH and protection as a minimum). Coordination, partnerships with local and international NGOs, and public-private partnerships can go beyond individual assistance to include long-term activities that have a wider impact on the community and local institutions.

Key considerations for urban responses:

  • The scale and complexity of urban disasters increases the need for effective partnerships with local civil society, local and national authorities, and humanitarian actors.
  • Coordination is key in urban assessments, both with agencies and government authorities to ensure information sharing and a broader understanding of the context.
  • ‘Community’ and ‘neighbourhood’ are not always the same thing. Needs may be widely dispersed and communities may be defined in other ways than geographic proximity, for example by family, social networks or communities of interest (ALNAP, 2012).
  • Displaced populations and refugees are identified as some of the most vulnerable populations in urban centres due to lack of social networks, discrimination, stigmatization, exposure to harassment, threat of eviction, and, in the case of refugees, denial of right to work.
  • Implementation of Cash Transfer initiatives with cash- and voucher-based systems will help revitalising local economies, supporting existing shops, vendors and producers.
  • Housing land and property (HLP) rights are complex and may take longer than the project timeframe to be resolved.
  • Community infrastructure projects may provide income-generating opportunities (in construction, rehabilitation, management, maintenance etc.). For example, community waste management and recycling initiatives, management of water provision and chlorination, maintenance of drainage systems, etc.

Adapted from:

ALNAP Lessons paper – Responding to urban disasters: learning from previous relief and recovery operations

>> Key references:

RedR UK – Ready to Respond Skills gaps for responding to humanitarian crises in urban settings in the WASH and shelter sectors

This can be either for the host or hosted family, or both and may include:

  • Distribution of household items , materials and/or shelter kits that allow the families to create more habitable space and improved conditions for privacy
  • Housing upgrades to improve comfort, safety and privacy
  • Rent-subsidies or cash-assistance to compensate for increased utility fees or for lost income-generating assets

Care should be taken to ensure equal support to both hosting and hosted communities and a ‘do no harm’ approach to minimise social tensions. The influx of displaced populations to densely populated areas can exacerbate the existing vulnerabilities of the host communities and lead to heightened social tensions due to overpopulation, lack of or limited access to adequate health/education facilities, strain on already deteriorated or substandard public services (water, sanitation, electricity etc.) – particularly in urban contexts. Integrated approaches for shelter, WASH, livelihoods support and protection are increasingly endorsed by Global Shelter Cluster leads and partners as a best practice in urban specific responses when assisting the host communities and displaced populations. These interventions may include upgrading of basic services and WASH systems, provision of vocational training and other forms of livelihoods support to increase access to income-generating opportunities.

For more on host community support see: