After a large scale disaster such as the Haiti earthquake, most organizations are focused on how to get some kind of relief to the people effected by the disaster as quickly as possible. In situations where basic shelter, is a major concern relief groups typically respond with their form of disaster relief tents. However, the large number of disasters in the last decade has taught us that traditional disaster relief tents offer very little benefit to those who receive them.
Traditional style tents were designed with the single purpose of keeping its residents out of direct environmental conditions. As a result there many flaws that can turn these tents into breeding grounds for disease. First, the design of disaster relief tents trap heat and moisture inside. Combined with unsanitary living conditions and difficulty washing, large populations living in tents make it very difficult to control the spread of diseases. Second, residents of tents sleep on the ground exposing them to dirt and germs that once have been brought into a tent are difficult to get out. After rain storms, such as the ones seen in Haiti, mud and water tend to seep up through the bottom of the tent making it impossible to stay clean and dry. See: “Haiti’s Disaster after the Disaster: The IDP Camps and Cholera”
As I shared in “A Locking Door for Disaster Relief Shelters” traditional disaster relief tents provide almost no security from crime. Entry ways are simple zippers that cannot be locked. Even if there were a way to lock these tents, the fabric walls can simply be ripped through at little hindrance to criminals. As a result after almost every large scale disaster, even in the United States with hurricane Katrina, crime rates multiply.
One of the biggest problems with using tents as a disaster relief shelter is that they are unable to withstand harsh environmental conditions. When exposed to winds, rain storms, or constant hot sun tents will leak water, tear apart, or experience even minor problems such as a broken zipper which will render the entire tent useless as a shelter.
Between the lack of sanitation, security offered, and durability of traditional style tents. They are not adequate to be used as transitional sheltering after a disaster has taken place.