InterAction and USAID/OFDA Launch Shelter and Settlements E-learning Course


Currently, one sixth of the world’s population lives in unsuitable, unsanitary, and disaster-prone settlements; this ratio is projected to increase to one in four by 2030. Rapid urbanizations, displacements due to ongoing crises, and an increasing strength of disasters continue to deplete people’s coping capacity in general, and with housing issues in particular.

When a natural or man-made disaster damages or destroys houses and displaces communities, most families prefer to return to their original neighborhoods. A better rebuilt house is often one of their priority needs. Unfortunately, construction of houses is one of the most complex processes, even in a non-disaster situation. It requires significant human and financial resources, time, regulatory compliances, and complex logistics. When the scale of the damage is vast, the complexity and expectations increase several folds.

This week InterAction and USAID/OFDA are launching a new online training that provides an overview of the humanitarian community’s shelter and settlements activities, and examines trends based on past experiences and how humanitarian actors can prepare to face emerging challenges. The new shelter and settlements e-learning course is structured around a series of five modules that will walk disaster and emergency relief professionals through the many challenges they might face in the field.

Step-by-Step Training

The first module addresses the role of an adequate shelter and its function in the overall recovery process of the affected population beyond just providing four walls and a roof.  It highlights that shelter and settlement interventions are cross-cutting, integrating other sectors such as livelihoods, WASH, and Disaster Risk Reduction, and explains why such interventions should aim to facilitate transitional recovery processes.

Often humanitarian shelter and settlement responses start in a vacuum where there are no existing disaster recovery plans in place, local government capacities are affected, and resources are limited. A contextual analysis is the starting point and one of the most important activities undertaken by the humanitarian sector. The second module emphasizes the need to understand local contexts through careful assessments, including detailed analysis of damage profiles, settlement characteristics, organizational capacities, and market linkages. The module also touches on why the traditional damage assessments and units of analysis need to change given the rapid urbanization.

While exploring the importance of shelter in meeting the most urgent emergency needs of the most vulnerable disaster-affected populations, the third module also promotes the concept of shelter and its setting (settlements), and the many functions of shelter, which often acts as a base for activities relating to livelihood. This module covers various options to sheltering affected communities and the importance of understanding communities’ self-recovery efforts and leveraging their social capital.

The fourth module discusses the importance of changing our unit of analysis. To have greater effectiveness in the delivery of humanitarian assistance, we must change our contextual analysis to settlements and neighborhoods, instead of individuals and households as currently practiced. The module argues for a greater understanding of context, disaster impacts, emerging constraints and opportunities, and available resources and capacities.

Learning Together: Building Partnerships and Alliances

The importance of addressing future disaster risks and understanding and partnering with development processes and actors is the focus of the fifth module. Settlements-based interventions that address disaster risks require training and outreach in order to promote knowledge, advocacy, and policy and program changes.  Shifting our approaches to settlements-level interventions will require creating new alliances within the humanitarian community and between the humanitarian and development communities, as well as actively engaging host country authorities.

This version of the course incorporates participant feedback from over 15 shelter and settlement training courses conducted in the U.S., Canada, Costa Rica, Taiwan, and Thailand.

While a short training cannot address every unique situation and complexity faced by humanitarian shelter and settlement actors, InterAction and USAID/OFDA have designed this e-learning course to highlight some of the key challenges disaster preparedness and response professionals are facing today and will increasingly see in the coming decades as the number of people living in disaster-prone settlements continues to climb.