Creative shelters bring privacy to Tohoku evacuees

April 2nd, 2011 by Felicity Hughes

ShelterBox tents are helping families regain privacy in evacuation centers in Iwate Prefecture

A UN report on March 19 stated that there were 376,907 people taking shelter in evacuation centers in the areas affected by the recent tsunami. While that number goes down daily as refugees are housed by relatives and friends, the numbers of people living in cramped conditions at evacuation centers is still high. Fortunately for some evacuees, temporary schemes are being implened to immediately improve their privacy and the temporary housing projects that are currently being constructed.

Architect Shigeru Ban‘s disaster relief project aims to tackle the immediate problem of privacy. “For the first few days, it’s O.K., but then people suffer because there’s no privacy between families. It normally takes a few months before they can move into temporary government housing,” Ban said in a recent interview in the New York Times. Ban’s solution is simple: Canvas sheets are hung from a frame constructed of rolled paper poles to create a partitioned area in which families can retreat from the public eye. Financed with donations from around the world, the kits are shipped out to evacuations centers in the affected areas. Details about how to contribute can be found on the Shigeru Ban website.

U.K.-based charity ShelterBox are sending out emergency kits that contain a tent, blankets, tools, crayons and coloring books for kids and cooking utensils. “Our tents are being used by young families as a private space and a sleeping area. This is incredibly important for morale and is giving the families back a sense of dignity,” says ShelterBox Field Operations Specialist Mark Pearson on the charity’s website. Rikuzentakata and Ofunato, both in Iwate Prefecture, are areas that have received ShelterBox kits so far.

In Rikuzentakata temporary housing for the 1,000 people currently living in evacuation centers is already being constructed. According to Bloomberg News, pre-fabricated shelters like these are constructed by Japan Prefabricated Construction and Suppliers Association, a group that includes big name house builders like Sekisui House and Daiwa House Industry.

Another possibility for future housing looks to be eco-warrior Michael Reynolds’ Earthship. According to, earthquake resistant homes made from recycled materials that support sustainable living could possibly be constructed in affected areas in the future. Reynolds has previously overseen the construction of Earthships for victims of the Haiti earthquake and is considering the same for Japan. “Earthship Biotecture is currently gathering information on getting to Japan,” Reynolds wrote in a strongly worded anti-nuclear statement on Earthship Biotechture’s website.

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