Read This NowYou have a right to life with dignity.

You have a right to adequate shelter, to food, to safe drinking water, and to sanitary hygiene facilities.  You have a right to health care, to remain with your family, to privacy.  You have a right to access humanitarian aid.

You have a right to be safe.

Your government owes you these and other rights.  They also owe you a remedy for the harm that’s caused when these rights are violated.

You also have a right to control your destiny.  A disaster response system has been put in place that may or may not have been designed with your input.  But the right to “consultation,” as lawyers call it, means that decisions about camps and shelters (and every other aspect of the response and resettlement) – whether made by the government of Vanuatu, the UN, an NGO, or other international actors – must reflect YOUR priorities, not theirs.  If you don’t have a seat at the table, if your voice is not being heard, then you are not being consulted.  And that is a human rights violation.

Have you heard that the recovery is slow because of logistics, or money, or the scale of devastation?  That certainly may be true.  Or it may not.  Deepa Panchang reported how some humanitarian actors in Haiti failed to meet the basic needs of earthquake survivors because they either did not know about, or were not willing to apply, clean water and sanitation protocols set forth in what’s called The Sphere Handbook.  They said Sphere standards did not apply in earthquake ravaged Haiti.  They were wrong, because Sphere standards apply in every disaster.  They said Sphere standards didn’t matter because they were providing enough water and latrines to meet the needs of people living in displacement camps.  But Sphere articulates “minimum standards” not “maximum objectives,” and is the authoritative statement on what is required to protect the life and dignity of disaster survivors.  The failure to follow Sphere standards in Haiti contributed to the ongoing cholera epidemic that has thus far killed nearly 9,000 people, and sickened more than 750,000.

Vanuatu is now the focus, and we are reading about problems you are experiencing with aid distribution and shelter conditions.  See examples herehere, and here.  But experience tells me there are not enough (if any) human rights lawyers on the ground who can advocate on your behalf, or who can provide resources and training that will empower you to do so for yourself.  Right now, you may in fact feel very disempowered.

The resources below, however, give you some leverage.  The excerpts are taken from two sources: (1) The Inter-Agency Standing Committee Guidelines for Gender-Based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Settings, and (2) The Sphere Handbook.  They are just a sample of the many protocols designed to protect what’s generally referred to as the “human rights of internally displaced people.”  These excerpts relate specifically to shelter protocols, though both documents cover the broader range of disaster-related human rights issues.  They will be useful if you are negotiating with shelter managers or humanitarian actors for safe and secure living arrangements that you deserve, and are entitled to under law.

I hope it helps.

-Kathleen Bergin


From the IASC Guidelines

Action 7.1: Implement Safe Site Planning and Shelter Program:

  • Key Action 2: Select sites with sufficient space that do not pose additional security and protection risks, considering proximity to high-risk areas and fuel/water/aid distribution and collection sites.
  • Key Action 3: Put women on shelter committees, ensure their participation, and that their needs are met.
  • Key Action 4: Locate shelters in areas that promote a sense of community and reinforce community-based protection, while also preserving family privacy.  Provide a common area for children to play where caretakers can watch them.  Implement safe water and sanitation programs, and provide lighting in communal areas and for individual use.
  • Key Action 5: Designate safe spaces for women, children and other vulnerable populations.  Allow confidential, private and anonymous access to sexual violence services.  Consult, consult, consult with women, and mobilize them to manage safe spaces and activities.  Consult some more.
  • Key Action 6: Maximize safety and prevent sexual violence in communal shelters.  Provide partitions between families; accommodate single women and single men in separate communal booths; consult, consult, consult with women to meet their needs; and regularly monitor shelters for security and protection.
  • Key Action 7: Do not compromise protection.  For example, “a separate location for single female shelters may in some cases be protective while in other cases it may instead expose them to harm.”  Establish clear, consistent, and transparent systems for shelter allocation, material distribution, and criteria for qualifying for shelter assistance.

From The Sphere Handbook: Shelter and Settlement Standards 1, 2, and 3

Shelter and Settlement Standard 1: Strategic Planning

  • Key Action: analyze shelter needs in “consultation with relevant authorities and the population themselves”
  • Guidance Note 4: structures may need to be adapted to ensure the “personal safety, privacy and dignity of occupants and access to essential facilities.”

Shelter and Settlement Standard 2: Settlement Planning

  • Key Action: “minimize risk and vulnerabilities [to] ensure safe access to all shelters and settlement locations and to essential services.”
  • Guidance Note 3: calls for “additional facilities or access points to meet the needs of the targeted population, and in particular, vulnerable people,” taking into account “the existing social structure, and gender roles of the affected population and the requirements of vulnerable people, [such as] ensuring services are within reasonable walking distance for individuals with mobility difficulties and the provision of safe breastfeeding areas in temporary communal settlements.”  (Note the UN report on breastfeeding concerns linked above).
  • Guidance Note 6: Space in “communal settlements … should be informed by existing social practices and use of shared resources . . . Neighborhood planning should support existing social networks, contribute to security and enable self-management by the affected population.”  Temporary camps should “maintain the privacy and dignity of separate households by ensuring that each household opens onto common space or a screened area … instead of being opposite the entrance to another shelter.  Safe, integrated living areas for displaced populations that include a significant number of single adults or unaccompanied children should be provided.”
  • Guidance Note 7: For individual household shelter, “a minimum usable surface area of 45 metres for each person including household plots should be provided…”  If that is not possible, the risks of overcrowding should be mitigated by, for example, “ensuring adequate separation and privacy between individual households ….”

Shelter and Settlement Standard 3: Covered Living Space

Covered living space must ensure privacy, safety, and health, and enable people to undertake essential household and livelihood activities.

  • Key Action 3: requires “safe separation and privacy … between the sexes, between different age groups, and between separate families within a given household.”
  • Guidance Note 3: covered areas should accommodate “local practices,” for example, “sleeping arrangements and care for extended family members.  Consultation should include members of vulnerable groups [and their care takers].”  Internal subdivisions within individual household shelters should be offered.  In communal shelters, “the grouping of related families, well-planned access routes through the covered area and materials to screen personal and household spaces can aid the provision of adequate personal privacy and safety.”  All shelters should minimize overcrowding and maximize adequate space and privacy.

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