21/11/2018

"Shelter is more than just walls and roofs, it is vital for maintaining human dignity" - Coffee with Jose De La Cruz, ShelterBox


By Jose De La Cruz
Jose works as the Institutional Fundraiser for ShelterBox and specialises in bilateral and multilateral donor engagement and proposal programme development. He spent three years living with displaced communities near the crater of Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines, for which he received a distinguished service citation.

A recently published research report by ShelterBox found that in 2017, only one in five families worldwide received appropriate shelter support. We had a coffee with Jose De La Cruz to hear more about the unmet needs and how the sector can improve. Jose works as the Institutional Fundraiser for ShelterBox and specialises in bilateral and multilateral donor engagement and proposal programme development.  

The report says that in 2017, around 20% of the affected population was left without shelter support. What does ‘shelter support’ mean in this context?

‘Shelter support’ is the provision of shelter kits, tents, non-food items, training, and other support to enable affected communities to construct accommodation that can immediately protect them from extreme weather, have privacy, be with their families, feel comfortable and safe, and prevent further displacement. It means providing them with the aid items and knowledge to pursue their own sheltering process and recovery. 

A basic human need – reads the report, why is it so important?

Shelter is a determinant for survival in most disasters: essential for personal safety, security and protection from extreme weather. It promotes resistance to ill health and disease. More than just walls and roofs, it is vital for maintaining human dignity and sustaining family and community life. Shelter reduces vulnerability, builds community resilience and enables affected populations to recover.

The first two commitments of the Core Humanitarian Standard on Quality and Accountability (CHS) require humanitarian response to be appropriate, relevant, effective and timely. Despite being a basic human need, how come shelter support is lagging behind? 

There are many reasons. These include, amongst others, the increased frequency of emergencies and forced displacements every year, and national and international capacity being overwhelmed to respond to them. 

Our research shows that shelter provision during humanitarian emergencies in the last 10 years has been consistently been underfunded, often by more than 50% every year. This indicates that shelter provision has been under-prioritised. It is high time for the international community to prioritise or place equal emphasis on shelter provision. 

One of the case studies in the report has a subtitle saying  “unrecorded need”. How and why is it unrecorded? 

The term “’unrecorded need” reflects the many emergencies that happened in 2017, where people did not receive support from the international donor and NGO community. Many of them were dealt with by national agencies, as they are mandated to do so. In the case of the Philippines, during many of the emergencies, the government did not request outside assistance. There have been also cases where national agencies were overwhelmed by the demand, and thus faced challenges in aid delivery. In the report, we were highlighting that the real scale of shelter need is likely to be higher than reported because of this.

Do crisis-affected people often request specific shelter support via official channels to aid agencies? According to Commitment 4 of the CHS, humanitarian response should be based on communication, participation and feedback.

Affected communities may make requests based on their particular needs, and for items appropriate to their conditions. When given the opportunity, they communicate these through the official channels, which can include national and international agencies. We at ShelterBox respond to the needs of communities we serve. We determine these needs through a rigorous consultation process. The initial phase of our aid deployment is always a needs assessment, during which we deploy a ShelterBox Response Team (SRT) composed of staff and volunteers to the affected countries.​

How does shelter support relate to the localisation agenda? Are there local capacities that could be explored or strengthened? 

A sustainability element of our work is the promotion and development of local capacity in shelter construction. Local communities and agencies are often the ones who know and can respond to local needs. ShelterBox works with local NGO partners, the national shelter clusters, national agencies, and Rotary partners. Building local capacity in shelter construction, logistics management, and interagency coordination are areas that could be further be strengthened.

Are you aware of any best practices for shelter support? If organisations need help, whom they can turn to?

There are many best practices in shelter support by different actors. ShelterBox’s specialism is in emergency shelter provision as well as logistics. For support, you can visit ShelterBox.org and the Global Shelter Cluster Website (sheltercluster.org).

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