Twig shelter (c) WRC Megan Gerrard DRC 2014


The shelter sector is responsible for overseeing the camp site selection and planning process and for ensuring that shelter materials— often wood poles, tarps, and rope—are provided to beneficiaries during the establishment of camps. In many regions they also coordinate the composition and distribution of non-food items (NFIs), such as cooking pots and buckets for carrying water. Access to improved cookstoves and appropriate cooking fuel was recognized by the humanitarian community in 2000 as a minimum standard in humanitarian response, and is included in the 2011 Sphere Project humanitarian handbook as Shelter/NFI Standard 4 along with lighting. However, these minimum standards are frequently left unmet. 

In emergency settings, firewood is in direct competition with materials needed for shelter construction, such as timber. Without proper assessment by shelter workers of the wood resources available in and around a camp site, the construction of the camp itself can deplete much of the surrounding area’s firewood supply, forcing women to travel farther and farther away from the relative safety of the camp to find cooking fuel. In reaction to diminishing natural resources, local governments may even restrict or ban refugees from accessing forests and consequently prevent them for obtaining the cooking fuel and energy supplies they need to survive.

Refugee camps are also extremely crowded—when shelters are close together, open fires used for cooking are a risk factor for house fires, which can have devastating effects in camps constructed primarily out of wood, thatch, and plastic.

Properly designing ventilated cooking areas and supporting safer cooking technologies such as fuel-efficient cookstoves and clean fuels can help to reduce the risk of household fires that can burn down homes and injure camp inhabitants.