Watching the images of survivors in Nepal as they erect ramshackle shelters with sheets of canvas, you immediately think their plight could be improved. Why can’t we get existing shelters to where they’re needed much more quickly?

For there are plenty of really smart, simple, lightweight, automatically erected shelters out there, some of which are pictured here. Designers have thought about the problem many times. Such shelters are available in various shapes and sizes, made of recyclable and biologically degradable materials. They are very durable and strong, guaranteed to last a long time. As since they’re compatible, they can house one person or a whole family, or even a community service. Perhaps the shelters used by the UNHCR and the Red Cross and other relief organizations are fine, but the biggest challenge is to get them on site fast.

So the main challenge lies in designing a system that can cross borders and bypass politics, that is ultra-fast and adequate.

Dove drones

Could we deploy drones to get them there? Could we get unmanned aircraft to drop a cargo of smart tents for thousands of people? Those aircraft could look like doves of peace, something that everybody recognizes as harmless, apolitical providers of aid, saviours who are welcome everywhere and can reach anywhere, dropping their cargo in the desert, on mountainsides, in the ocean, wherever needed.

Or couldn’t a communication system continue to function, in this age of Wi-Fi and connectedness, so that we can contact people even after major disasters? And that we could then send a super design so that survivors could quickly build temporary shelters themselves using local materials that are always available?

These are just a few thoughts that occur to me as I watch TV while donating a few euros to help the relief effort. And then I get the feeling that all of it already exists, but that the most important thing is to get everything on time to the people who really need it. And for that, we need a whole chain of people: designers, and decision-makers, world leaders and doves of peace, Scrooge McDucks and Gyro Gearlooses, thinkers and doers.

Top image: Collapsible woven shelters by Abeer Seikaly

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