The escalating frequency and intensity of natural disasters exacerbated by conflict and global challenges are increasing the need for humanitarian aid and having a dramatic impact on human and economic costs. In 2010 alone, 263 million people were devastated by natural disasters with experts predicting this number potentially increasing to 375 million people by 2015. Although there are 600,000 active aid workers worldwide, there are critical gaps in the industry's capacity to conduct research, effective knowledge management, and standardized training and accreditation.

Using a holistic, inter-disciplinary, human centered design methodology the Qatar Shelter Initiative (QSI) focused on uncovering the systemic challenges that reduce the effectiveness and efficiency of disaster relief, especially related to shelter. Through field site visits to Haiti and Indonesia, literature reviews, surveys, focus groups and individual interviews, key bottlenecks were identified including lack of research that bridges the gap between emergency shelter and permanent shelter, the treatment of shelter needs as a technical issue only, technical experts and volunteers that are not familiar with disasters, no standardization of formal training for humanitarian aid professionals, no regulatory body to determine who or what organization is qualified to execute shelter programs, lack of retention and disseminated institutional knowledge within the disaster response sector, and organizations that do have shelter as a core competency but conduct shelter because of the dire need.

The study has resulted is a multi-faceted approach to creating and managing knowledge to support the international disaster response community in developing culturally appropriate solutions for the reconstruction of communities that address short, intermediate and long-term needs, designing and effective virtual community-based knowledge management solution that provides immediate and relevant access to information for those sourcing information in the disaster management field, and developing specific programs for knowledge transfer linking the in-depth knowledge of a few experienced practitioners to the influx of a large cadre of new volunteers.

The study is a collaboration of Design Zone/QSTP; Qatar Red Crescent; Virginia Commonwealth University and Qatar University. Habitat for Humanity International and the International Federation of Red Cross Red Crescent Societies are also supporting this initiative through contributing their expertise.


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