What Difference Can a Floor Make?

Part 1, WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene). See part two of this series for the impact of flooring on shelter winterization.

If you were tasked with erecting a temporary shelter in which to live for an unknown amount of time (could be 1 month, could be 20 years!), what  comes to mind as most important? A roof? Walls? Entryway? What about the floor? Flooring is often the last thing considered and is sometimes treated as being of secondary importance or a luxury item to add on only with extra funding.

However, whether it is planned for or not, flooring is an integral part of every shelter, with an impact that spans across sanitation and health, mental wellbeing, and thermal comfort. When not properly accounted for, people are left living on the dirt or laying cheap tarps and rugs over the ground. This may not seem like a big deal if its only for a few days or weeks, but most of the time, displaced people are living in these conditions for many years, and the impact can be devastating.

It’s stating the obvious, but dirt floors are hard to keep clean, especially in crowded camps with poor drainage, flooding, and latrines nearby. In studying the impacts of a social program in Mexico called Piso Firme (“Firm Floor”), researchers found that replacing dirt floors with cement significantly improved the health of young children. Their survey results indicate that introduction of a clean floor decreases parasitic infections in children by 78%, diarrhea by 49%,  anemia by 81% and increases cognitive development by up to 96%. Adults responded with lower rates of depression and stress and higher satisfaction in their quality of life. ARCHIVE Global found similar results with its project to provide cement floors for dirt homes in Bangladesh after learning that thousands of Bangladeshi children die each year from parasites living in the floors of their own homes.

For millions of displaced people who must live in temporary shelters for years on end due to protracted crises, cement is not always an option. In many cases, host governments will not allow construction of “permanent” structures, including poured concrete flooring. Most temporary shelters in use for displaced people do not have any kind of floor.

What to do then, when a quality, cleanable floor could literally save lives, but no suitable, temporary option exists? Create one.

In response to this need, Every Shelter’s founders created Emergency Floor. It is lightweight, durable, easy to clean, insulated, and simple to install. For our pilot, we worked with USAID, UNHCR, and GVC-Italia to provide flooring to two camps in northern Lebanon. The result? Kids are sick less often, people are warmer and sleeping better, and others in camps nearby who don’t yet have the floors are asking for them! We want nothing more than to provide them.

Written by Nicole Iman for Every Shelter – 07.17.2018

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