Improving our knowledge and practice on shelter self-recovery

by 13th Aug 2020
Rebuilding a home after Cyclone Sagar in Gargaara, Somalia Rebuilding a home after Cyclone Sagar in Gargaara, Somalia

After disasters and in post-conflict returns, many families will rebuild relying on their own resources, with little or no support from formal institutions or the humanitarian community – they self-recover. Previous research indicates that support after a major disaster is likely to meet only around 15% of the shelter needs, often less. Yet, many people will rebuild homes incorporating the same housing vulnerabilities as before and the opportunity to build safer, healthier homes can be missed. So what more can we do to support this inevitable process of shelter self-recovery?

Shelter practitioners at CARE International have been working on shelter self-recovery research and implementing self-recovery programmes for a number of years. The self-recovery approach ensures that affected communities remain in control of their own recovery and that community capacities and knowledge, recovery pathways, timelines and priorities are not overruled by top-down approaches. One challenge with self-recovery is ensuring that those who cannot recover are identified early, and support provided, whilst ensuring that they determine the terms of the assistance.

Much of the shelter self-recovery research to date has involved better understanding of self-recovery in different contexts and the factors that influence the self-recovery process. This earlier work led to the formation of the Promoting Safer Building Working Group of the Global Shelter Cluster in 2018 and developed the “Informing Choice for Better Shelter” Protocol, which is a tool used in disaster response to facilitate safer building practices.

A new project, Self-recovery from Humanitarian Crisis, has been funded through a Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) Translations Award to build on this previous work. This new project is led by the Centre for Development and Emergency Practice (CENDEP), Oxford Brookes University, in collaboration with CARE International UK. Other project partners include Catholic Relief Services (CRS), CRAterre, the Global Shelter Cluster, Habitat for Humanity, Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and the British Geological Survey (BGS).

Next steps for self-recovery tools, guidance, and research

A major aim of the new project is to develop, test and refine tools and guidance that support shelter self-recovery programmes. The guidance will build on CARE’s experience in implementing shelter self-recovery programmes and previous research projects. It will be developed in collaboration with shelter practitioners and CARE country offices, and also informed by fieldwork, which is being adapted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the heart of the guidance will be the priorities and agency of individuals, families and communities; self-recovery is people-centred and people-led. Supporting shelter self-recovery represents a departure from technically focussed shelter projects to ones that are more holistic, where communities set their own goals over construction timescales, housing design and materials.

The first guidance development workshop on context analysis has already taken place, with shelter practitioners and academics attending the workshop. In a move away from “needs assessments”, the discussions were formulated around a “context analysis” and working to better understand and capture community priorities and plans, and how those might change with time. Using the question “What’s your plan and how are you going to get there?” during early context analyses was considered key in supporting shelter self-recovery and more effective at establishing community-identified vulnerabilities and barriers to self-recovery. Future workshops will address implementation and monitoring and evaluation.

Alongside the guidance, CARE is also working on research that looks to better understand the wider impacts of shelter on health, livelihoods and protection, as well as linkages between shelter, geoscience and disaster risk reduction. Within the shelter sector, we often talk about shelter being more than just a roof, and this additional strand of research seeks to better understand what an enabling environment for self-recovery looks like, and where support should therefore be focussed.

You can keep up to date with the project at and here on the CARE Insights blog.

Download 2-page flyer with more information on the Self-recovery from Humanitarian Crisis project:

Beth Simons

I joined CARE in 2020 as a Shelter Researcher working on shelter self-recovery. My background is in applied geoscience and after working in academia and industry, I moved into the shelter sector and managed a number of emergency shelter projects in both disaster and conflict settings around the world. Prior to joining CARE, I was based in Western Ethiopia as a shelter sub-cluster coordinator in response to conflict.

Many aspects of shelter interest me; it is a complex sector. If you think about your home and its location within your community, it impacts your livelihood opportunities, access to services and your physical and mental health. With my geoscience background, a key interest is how we all perceive and interact with our environment. Shelter is a huge part of this, with our surrounding environment dictating how we live, how we build and how we adapt to living on a dynamic planet.


Twitter: @CornubianBeth