IKEA Developing Durable Alternative Shelter for Refugee Camps

Image credit: DesignTaxi.com

Swedish furniture behemoth IKEA, in partnership with the United Nations Refugee Agency and Refugee Housing Unit, is developing a solar-powered, insulated, hard-sided shelter the company claims is a superior alternative to tent-based refugee shelters typically deployed by relief organizations.

The shelter is large enough to accommodate taller-than-average people, packs up flat and is expected to cost around $1,000. IKEA says it has sent 56 of these prototypes to refugee camps in Ethiopia, Lebanon and northern Iraq for testing.

According to the U.N., some 45 million people have been forced from their homes by political conflict or violence across the world — the highest number in 18 years. Ten percent of these people live in tents, many of which offer no electricity and cannot provide adequate insulation from the heat or the cold. While tent-based refugee camps have an average life span of about six months, refugees tend to stay for several years.

IKEA and its partners claim the new flat pack camps could be a durable, transportable solution for the world's shifting refugee populations. The solar panels offer enough electricity for lighting and the shelter's walls and roof are made up of a laminated material that offers UV protection and insulation. The small square tiles are integrated into a fabric net that covers the structure, reflecting heat in the daytime and absorbing it at night for warmth.

“It is designed this way, like an IKEA bookshelf, to be easy to transport and to be easy to set up in the field,” said Johan Karlsson, a representative with the Refugee Housing Unit.

The test tents are being used by Somalis living in UN refugee camps at Dollo Ado in Ethiopia, as well as refugees in Iraq and Lebanon. After receiving feedback from those using them, IKEA says it will fund further improvements before they are put onto the market via the 'open source' method, where any commercial organization can buy the design to sell to the UN Refugee Agency.

“We're not there yet, we're in the testing stage now, but this is already very huge, and we will be testing in a lot of different locations and gather data about changes. Then we hopefully go full scale,” Spiegel added.

IKEA was among the 33 multinational companies, which also included eBay, L’Oréal, Nike and Limited Brands, to sign a “Climate Declaration” urging federal policymakers to take action on climate change. By taking part in the declaration, the companies have asserted that a bold response to the climate challenge is one of the greatest American economic opportunities of the 21st century.


Based in San Francisco, Mike Hower is a writer, thinker and strategic communicator who revels in helping drive the conversation at the intersection of sustainable business and public policy. He studied Political Science and History at the University of California,… [Read more about Mike Hower]


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