Project aims to improve housing for refugees across the globe

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EPSRC-supported researchers are leading an international project to improve the living conditions of millions of refugees by designing better shelters.

  • Interdisciplinary project is creating low-cost housing that is easy to construct in refugee camps
  • New shelters are being designed to moderate extreme temperatures
  • Shelters will also improve privacy and security, allowing residents to live in dignity

The temperatures endured by refugees living in camps in Jordan and many other countries can range from extreme heat to freezing cold.

This can lead to health issues for many refugees, while their wellbeing is also adversely affected by the fact that current shelters fail to meet basic privacy and security needs.

As part of the Healthy Housing For The Displaced project, researchers at the University of Bath are working alongside colleagues from the Princess Sumaya University for Technology and German Jordanian University in Jordan, and Turkey’s Mersin University to develop housing that will address these challenges.

Researchers interviewed Syrian refugees living in Jordanian camps to identify their needs, which range from the provision of proper toilet and kitchen facilities to ensuring there is proper insulation to protect against both heat and cold.

Following this feedback, they are using new combinations of conventional and non-conventional materials including recycled plastic, bamboo, mud and straw to design shelters that can provide warmth in winter and cool conditions during the summer.

Twenty possible designs are being constructed which will be thermally tested at the university’s Building Research Park in Swindon. The most successful designs will then be transported to Jordan to be tested in local conditions.

The project has been funded through EPSRC’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) allocation. The UK research councils are key delivery partners in the £1.5 billion GCRF initiative, which forms part of the UK’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) commitment.

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While shelters built as part of the project will initially be constructed in Jordan, the researchers are conducting the largest-ever global study monitoring air quality, thermal and social conditions in refugee camps. The findings from this research will be used to create a new manual for use by aid agencies, such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which will feature guidelines on shelter design and construction in camps. 

In December 2017, the project won the Royal Institute of British Architects President’s Award for Research in Housing, with the judging panel describing it as ‘important and timely’.

Lead Investigator, David Coley, Professor of Low Carbon Design at Bath, experienced the extreme conditions endured by refugees during a visit to Jordan in 2015 which inspired him to propose the project.

He says: “This is one of the most important research projects I have been involved with. There are 22 million refugees living in camps, most in very high or very low temperatures, and it is fantastic yet humbling to be given the opportunity to help to transform the lives of so many people.”