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  • Justin Henceroth


Improving the design of shelter—the homes, apartments and buildings where people live—can build the resilience of individuals and families in South and Southeast Asia to climate related disasters, according to new research from the Institute for Social and Environmental Transition–International (ISET) recently presented at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Bangkok, Thailand. ISET’s work was funded by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) and looked at the impacts climate change will have on natural disasters in Asia, with a specific focus on typhoons in Vietnam, flooding in India, and temperature increases and heat waves in Pakistan.

Shelter is a critically important element in any city or community. Homes are often the single largest asset owned by a family or individual, and damaged and lost shelters account for the highest monetary loss in climate related disasters[1]. For most low-income households, their homes are also where income-generating activities occur creating a greater dependence on structures. When destroyed, families and individuals have a reduced ability to bounce back quickly and recover from not only their structural and asset losses, but their inability to work. The peri-urban populations around rapidly growing cities are often exposed to disasters due to the locations where these communities settle. In order to understand how to build shelters that would withstand and protect families during and after disasters, ISET conducted design competitions in Da Nang, Vietnam and Gorakhpur, India where teams of local architecture students submitted ideas for resilient homes. The competition helped spark conversations about the needs of residents and introduced future architects and designers to the questions and concerns of resilience.

Resilient Shelter Cost and Benefits

Climate-based cost benefit analyses were conducted to understand the value of new shelter designs. Across the three countries, investments in improved shelter showed high benefit to cost ratios for individuals and households under a range of future scenarios. These findings were bolstered by experience on the ground, 250 homes incorporating resilient designs were built in Da Nang under a loan program supported by The Rockefeller Foundation. Last year, the homes that have been built under this program survived Typhoon Nari, even when nearby houses were damaged or destroyed. As a result, demand for these homes has been increasing.

Despite the value of new resilient designs, the research also identified an area where changes in shelters may not be able to have as large of an impact—temperature increases. Throughout the world, temperature is expected to increase over the coming decades. Notably, many regions will see that the minimum temperatures experienced on a given day may increase more than maximum temperatures. People across Asia may find that they are increasingly exposed to temperatures above 37 degrees Celsius, the temperature of the human body and a critical threshold related to health and well being, and that during the hot season both daytime and nighttime temperatures may remain above this point. These kinds of temperature patterns could have dramatic effects, particularly on women, the elderly, children and other vulnerable populations that are often confined to homes and indoor spaces and therefore have little access to outside cooling. Apart from air conditioning, which is prohibitively expensive for many, there are few measures that can truly reduce temperatures, and those that are available are not effective when minimum temperatures increase for extended periods of time.

Bangkok Dissemination Event

At the presentation of this research in Bangkok, scholars and leaders from top development organizations and research institutions, including US Agency for International Development, The Rockefeller Foundation, Oxford University, The Asia Disaster Preparedness Center and King Mongkut’s Institute for Technology at Lat Krabang, among others, discussed the implications of this research and how the findings can be applied. Attendees expressed interest in understanding how to scale up the findings from the resilient design competitions and the cost benefit analyses.

Much of the discussion at the event focused on the various levels from which this problem could be addressed. At an individual scale, homeowners and builders need to be educated and empowered to make changes to their homes. In cities like Gorakhpur, wealthier and more educated citizens are already making investments in homes with resilient designs; the key is to ensure that other citizens have the knowledge and ability to do the same. Training and education programs for contractors and builders were highlighted as a pathway for sharing knowledge and building these skills.

At a more macroscopic level, policy and regulation change could promote shifts in shelter design and construction. For instance, standardizing and updating building codes to integrate elements of resilient design could spur incorporation across a region. At the same time a range of, city, provincial, and national policies need to be modified and linked so that governments at all levels are working towards improved shelter. As part of this research, some of this is already happening. New training materials that build on the experience in Gorakhpur were developed by the National Department for Disaster Management in New Delhi and will be shared with regional and provincial governments across India.

Shelter Challenges

One of the largest challenges for upgrading shelter, though, lies in the cost. In particular, new and improved homes and other buildings require a significant investment up front. Most families and individuals do not have the kind of resources to make this investment on their own. Loan programs, like the kind developed in Da Nang, are one potential solution, but they require families or individuals to take on a high level of risk. The question of how to make sustainable and accessible ‘forward financing’ available is one that has been raised across many sectors, including disaster risk reduction. Developing solutions that allow for sufficient financing up front to incent changes, while at the same time minimizing risk for both investors and individuals remains a challenge for widespread promotion of resilient housing.

In summarizing the presentation of this research, ISET’s president Marcus Moench noted that (1) there are many known and readily available solutions for improving resilient housing, but (2) some areas, such as how to address heat and how to provide financing, require additional research and inquiry. With this understanding, there is a space for a range of actors, including local and national governments, businesses, researchers, individuals, NGOs, aid agencies, and others, to utilize these research findings to undertake many different kinds of activities to build and promote new kinds of climate resilient shelter.

Learn more about ISET’s work on climate resilient shelter and more at

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