North-west Syria

Situation Report
Flooded tents in NWS
Heavy rain flooded tents of displaced families in Atmah camp in Idleb. 6 May 2022. (Photo Credit: OCHA/Anwar Abdulattif)

The need for change: dignified shelters in north-west Syria

In a short interview, Thomas Bamforth, Shelter/NFI Cluster Coordinator, explains why dignified shelters are not only necessary but cost-effective investments to meet the needs of displaced families.

Today, over 800,000 people are living in tents in north-west Syria. Could you briefly tell us the main challenges faced by families living in such conditions? 

Thomas: Tents are an emergency short-term intervention and they are designed to last about six months. Yet displaced families in north-west Syria have been living in them for more than two years. We need to remember that 58 per cent of people in displacement sites are children. They have been living in old and overcrowded tents with exposure to high risks of fire. In winter, it can get very cold with snow and temperatures as low as -10°C degrees. Numerous camps have also reported high levels of gender-based violence due to the fact that many tents do not lock properly and are easily see-through at night. This is not the kind of security needed to ensure the safety of women and children.

The term dignified shelter is widely used within the humanitarian community. To a non-technical audience, what makes a shelter “dignified”? 

Thomas: When people have been living in unplanned displacement sites for over a decade, we need a different type of shelter intervention that provides people with greater safety and protection. We are looking at dignified shelters that last five to ten years. They have doors that can be locked and windows that are secured, creating safer spaces for children, women and the wider families. They are also better suited to the environment with heating and insulation to accommodate the extremes of temperature conditions in north-west Syria.

The Action Plan highlights this need for change towards dignified shelters as “value for money”. Could you elaborate on this?

Thomas:There is a range of reasons to support investing in dignified shelters, from social to physical protection of people. But this is also a really effective use of humanitarian funding. Within the next year, we will have to replace 160,000 tents in north-west Syria which is an enormous investment. Tents are actually quite expensive if you need to replace them every six to 12 months. A decent tent can cost as much as US$850. A dignified shelter may cost up to US$2000 but it essentially lasts longer. For two tents which have to be replaced every six months, you can have a dignified shelter that lasts for five years. So there is a moment where we can invest in short-term humanitarian shelters or we can use those funds to look at medium-term options which will provide people with greater safety, security, and dignity. The real question is how can we afford not to do this ?


For more information, click here to visit the website of the Shelter Cluster (Cross-border Operation – Turkey).