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06/27/2013

Ikea developing new solar-powered refugee shelter to replace tents

Screen shot 2013-06-27 at 8.48.07 AM

The Swedish furniture company Ikea is famous for its popular lines of inexpensive and contemporary sofas, beds and bookshelves.

Now it's adding refugee shelters to its lineup.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the Ikea foundation is committing $4.5 million into a new project that provides easy-to-assemble, flat-pack houses for migrant populations. Ikea's new “Refugee Shelter,” has solar technology and aims to put a real roof over refugees' heads.

According to the UNHCR, there are an estimated 3.5 million people are living in refugee tents. These tents are typically usually wrecked within six months and are hot in summer and cold in the winter. The new IKEA structures are expected to last "10 times that long."

"Quite frankly the tents have not evolved much in the years," said the UNHCR's Olivier Pierre Delarue in a video promoting the Ikea project. Delarue said that the average refugee family spends 12 years in a refugee camp.

"Many children will grow up calling these tents home," he said.

The shelters come packaged in modular, easy-to-ship cases like a bookshelf. The shelters have pipe framing, and lightweight plastic framing. They also feature solar panels that provide enough electricity to power a light and a cooking source. FastCompany.com has posted photos of the new shelters.

Once fully developed the structures will be a test-run by refugee families living in UN camps in Ethiopia.

Rick Westhead is a foreign affairs writer at The Star. He was based in India as the Star’s South Asia bureau chief from 2008 until 2011 and reports on international aid and development. Follow him on Twitter @rwesthead

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The obvious joke here can be made about the homes falling down because they're made by Ikea. I can honestly say, though, that I hope these are structurally sound because they will mean a big boost in the standard of living for those in the area. Great idea.

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