The Turkey-Syria quakes have left 1.5 million people homeless. A new study adds insight on providing refugee aid in climate-friendly ways.
More than 1.5 million people are now homeless after earthquakes devastated swaths of Turkey and Syria, adding to the region’s longstanding need for humanitarian aid. There are lessons to be learned, though, from a team of Global South researchers who’ve been studying refugee camps in the effort to deliver aid in more sustainable and climate-friendly ways.
The three scientists from Algeria, India and the United Arab Emirates present a “resilient design model” in their latest research, published in the journal City, Territory and Architecture. Their recommendations are based on the informal Dalhamieh settlement in Lebanon, where thousands of refugees lived after fleeing war in Syria or because of drought and other climate impacts.
Meeting the immediate security needs of a homeless population is a priority but that often occurs in a haphazard fashion, the paper authors noted. Unplanned growth contributes to challenges further down the road. As of January 2023, Lebanon’s Bekaa region was still home to 318,713 people.
In Lebanon’s camps, as with Turkish and Syrian quake victims, exposure to the elements leaves many to deal with the snow and cold. Flooding affects at least one in five camps, with vulnerable residents often losing what little they have. Roofs leak, clean water may be scarce and waste disposal is difficult.
With proper planning, settlements for the ever-growing numbers of displaced can better protect people, meet their needs and limit additional climate impacts with strategies like solar energy.
“Resiliency can be achieved at different scales in a settlement, starting from individual level to the entire camp level,” write the authors, led by Pallavi Tiwari of the School of Planning and Architecture in New Delhi. Land use plans serve as a foundation, with specific zones for residential, commercial, agricultural and utility purposes and buffers between them.
Residential areas can be built in clusters to better support extended families and close neighbors, all designed in flexible configurations that consider environmental factors to ensure their stability. If the area has strong winds, “the owner can fix the shelter as curved or the camp can create together a huge circle” to best protect the camp population. Tires and other recycled materials can be used to build.
“For managing the storm water, several design principals like rejuvenation ponds, rain water harvesting, green infrastructure to maintain the permeable surfaces in the entire settlement have been planned strategically, keeping in mind to not just protect against floods but also use rain water as a major resource of water for the settlement,” the authors explain.
Gardens that include medicinal plants along with food production can help with physical as well as emotional and spiritual resilience. In places like Turkey and Syria, where the United Nations Development Program estimates up to 210 million tons of rubble need to be removed, the small touches of nature and beauty recommended in the designs can offer respite from the destruction.
At the same time, working in the gardens and community kitchen, or at the recycling or water delivery system centers, helps people to find purpose and build community as they move forward in their lives.
“The recommendations thus provided by authors are not a rigid structural plan but a strategic, data driven set of actions that can be implemented by the local refugee community in order to achieve greater resilience and self-sustainability during crisis situations,” the authors conclude.
“The context, pattern, culture, socio-economic standing and aspirations of the people were all studied and incorporated in the model to present a holistic solution to a challenge which may soon increase not just in Lebanon but globally.”