Crises have forced over 60 million people to flee their homes—a record high number largely driven by the Syrian war as well as violence in Afghanistan and parts of Africa. Many have sought asylum in refugee camps; however, most settlements have minimal access to energy and are poorly designed, exposing people to disease and the elements. While refugee camps are only meant to be temporary, many displaced people can find themselves stuck in the camps for decades. In a bid to provide humanitarian assistance, designers around the world have developed innovative devices to improve refugee living conditions and hopefully help pave the way towards a healthier and brighter future.
IKEA offers more than just vegetarian meatballs and affordable furnishings. The Swedish design conglomerate designed and constructed Better Shelters, modular solar-powered shelters in parts of Europe to house Syrian refugees. In contrast to poorer quality UN tents that only last about six months, the Better Shelters are made with sturdier materials and can last up to three years. The basic steel-framed unit measures 57 square feet, comes with doors and windows that lock, and restore dignity through better housing.
Solight created the Solarpuff, a low-cost off-grid lighting solution designed for disaster solutions and can also be used in refugee camps. The cube-shaped LED lamp is made from recyclable PET and weighs just 2.6 ounces, making the Solarpuff a lightweight, portable, and safer alternative to the more commonly used kerosene lantern.
Refugee camps can become breeding grounds for disease often because of problems such as contaminated drinking water. Providing clean and safe water is one way to help prevent disease from spreading. KOHLER combines beautiful design with ancient water purification technology in KOHLER Clarity, a ceramic, gravity-enabled filtration system that can eliminate over 99 percent of contaminants and costs less than a penny a day to operate.
Access to reliable power and energy is a necessity for safety and communication, but it’s not always available at refugee camps. That’s why Dutch company WakaWaka created a series of solar-powered portable chargers that can recharge smartphones and tablets and double as LED flashlights. The startup has already sent 5,000 WakaWaka devices to Syrian refugee camps.
Shocked by the infant mortality statistics in refugee camps, Loughborough University graduate James Robert developed MOM, a portable, inflatable incubator for preterm babies. The affordable device won the 2014 James Dyson Award and is designed to reduce the stresses of premature births in refugee camps. The baby incubator runs on a battery that lasts 24 hours, is inflated manually, and is heated using ceramic heating elements.
You don’t have to be a designer to help refugees. The United Nations created ShareTheMeal, a smartphone app that lets anyone help feed refugee children with donations. A mere 50 cents can be enough to feed a child for a day. The proceeds are sent directly to the World Food Program, which helps provide vital nutrition to refugee children.