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close this bookHandbook for Emergencies - Second Edition (UNHCR, 1999, 414 p.)
close this folder12. Site Selection, Planning and Shelter
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentOverview
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentOrganization of Response
View the documentCriteria for Site Selection
View the documentSite Planning: General Considerations
View the documentSite Planning: Specific Infrastructure
View the documentShelter
View the documentReception and Transit Camps
View the documentPublic Buildings and Communal Facilities

Site Planning: Specific Infrastructure

· Under-estimation of surface area required for social infrastructure and communal services is a common problem.

60. At the start of an emergency it may be difficult to foresee all the administrative and communal services that are likely to be required. Where adequate space is available, free areas should be allocated for future expansion of these services. Under-estimation of the space required for future communal needs is a common problem in sites of limited area.


61. While water requirements often determine site selection, sanitation requirements often dictate site layout. High population density together with poor sanitation is a severe threat to health and safety of the refugees. This is often the case when sites have developed in an unplanned way. Minimal organization of basic sanitation should be introduced before reorganizing the site or transferring the refugees to a new site. This should include prohibiting uncontrolled defecation and the establishment of public latrines. Sufficient space must be left for replacement latrines. If communal latrines are unavoidable, there should be a plan for their maintenance and they should be accessible by road to facilitate this.

62. For all sites, new or reorganized, the goal should be one latrine per family. Only if the latrine remains under the control and maintenance of a family group is safety and hygiene assured in the long run. The ideal location of the family latrine is on the family plot, as far as possible from the shelter.

Water Supply

63. Where possible, the maximum distance between any shelter and a water distribution point should be not more than 100 m, no more than a few minutes walk. The layout of the site should contain the water distribution grid as an integral part of the service plan and the pipes should be underground. Water pipes should be kept at a depth that traffic or other surface activities do not cause damage (40 to 60 cm). In countries with very low temperatures, the pipes must be positioned at frost free depth (60 to 90 cm). Experience shows that water distribution to small, socially cohesive groups of 80 to 100 persons reduces water wastage considerably and reduces destruction of taps, standposts and concrete aprons. The water distribution point is more likely to be kept well drained and hygienic and the waste water used to irrigate communal or individual vegetable gardens.

64. Effluent and used water from water supply points should be well drained and eventually absorbed in soakage pits or gardens.


65. A site should have access and internal roads and pathways connecting the various areas and facilities. Accessroads should be all-weather roads above flood levels and have adequate drainage. If there has to be a significant amount of vehicle traffic on the site, it should be separated from pedestrian traffic. All structures, including fences, should be set back some 5 to 7 m from roads to provide adequate visibility for pedestrians and vehicles.

Fire Prevention

66. As a rule of thumb a firebreak (area with no buildings) 30 m wide is recommended for approximately every 300 m of built-up area. In modular camps firebreaks should be situated between blocks. This area will be an ideal for growing vegetables or recreation. If space allows, the distance between individual buildings should be great enough to prevent collapsing, burning buildings from touching adjacent buildings. The distance between structures should therefore be a minimum of twice the overall height of any structure, if building materials are highly inflammable (straw, thatch, etc.) the distance should be increased to 3 to 4 times the overall height. The direction of any prevailing wind will also be an important consideration.

Administrative and Communal Services

67. Buildings for administrative and communal services should be traditional structures, if possible of a multipurpose design to facilitate alternative uses. For example, buildings for initial emergency services could later be used as schools or other community facilities. The following list includes administrative and communal services most often needed, the division is indicative only - the importance of maximum decentralization has already been stressed. Whether centralized or decentralized, administrative and other facilities should be located and designed so as they are accessible to women as well as men.

68. Services and facilities likely to be centralized are:

i. Site administrative office;

ii. Services coordination offices for health care, feeding programmes, water supply, education, etc.;

iii. Warehousing and storage;

iv. Initial registration/health screening area;

v. Tracing service;

vi. Therapeutic feeding centre (if required).

69. Services and facilities likely to be decentralized:

i. Bathing and washing areas;

ii. Supplementary feeding centres (if required);

iii. Education facilities;

iv. Institutional centres (e.g. for the disabled and unaccompanied children, if required);

v. Recreation areas;

vi. Commodity distribution centres.

70. The location of the centralized services will depend on the specific situation and in particular on the space available. Where sufficient space is available, there may be clear advantages in having the centralized services in the centre of the camp. Where space is scarce, it may be better to have the centralized services located near the entrance to the camp. In particular, this will avoid the trucks delivering supplies having to drive through a densely populated site, with the attendant problems of dust, noise and danger to pedestrians. If some form of closed camp is unavoidable, at least the centralized administrative services will probably have to be located near the entrance. The warehouses should always be near the administrative office for reasons of security.