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Shelter and Health

A foundation of humanitarian Shelter and Settlement response is the desire to Build Back Better, and safer. In recent years, the need to define ‘better’ better has been advocated within the sector, along with calls for more holistic shelter practices and a focus on the wider impacts of shelter. Health should be central to these debates. A healthier home is a better home. It promotes both physical and mental health. The diagram below illustrates some of the ways in which people’s living environments can affect their physical and mental health.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the accelerating pace of climate change highlight the need for a sharper focus on the connections between living conditions and health is ever more important. There is further elaboration of the need for more attention on the connections between living conditions, Shelter and Settlements responses and health in an article in the Shelter Projects 8th Edition entitled A Healthier Home is a Better Home, published in 2021.


Shelter is often the first step in the process towards longer-term reconstruction and recovery; strategies that prioritise physical and mental health as an outcome of the sheltering process will not only contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals but help to bridge emergency response and longer-term recovery.


The Global Shelter Cluster has been leading efforts to encourage cross-sectoral attention on living conditions and their impact on physical and mental health over recent years, in part through awarding CARE International UK (CIUK) BHA funding to advance research in shelter and health (April 2021 - September 2022), following activities led by CIUK and Oxford Brookes University during an earlier research project

A series of meetings and events have built awareness of the need for greater connections between shelter, WASH and mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) actors. For example: thematic and open sessions at the 2021 and 2022 GSC annual meetings and the UK Shelter Forum in 2022. A series of three multisectoral learning events in 2020, 2021 and 2022 brought together humanitarian and development shelter/housing, health, WASH and MHPSS specialists to share knowledge of the connections between living conditions and health. The theme of well-being outcomes of humanitarian programming and how to monitor them has emerged. Similarly, the importance of home and homemaking in displacement. The reports of these learning events are available to download below. 

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Towards Healthier Homes in Humanitarian Settings

The report of the first multi-sectoral Shelter and Health Learning Day in May 2020 was published in August 2020.  Towards Healthier Homes in Humanitarian Settings brings together knowledge from different fields (development housing, health, WaSH and humanitarian shelter) on the connections between living conditions and health.


Mindful Sheltering

Mindful Sheltering is the report of the second Shelter and Health Learning event, which focussed on mental health. It was held in May 2021 and explored the connections between living conditions, mental health and shelter and settlements activities. A key takeaway from this event was that “A person’s mental health and psychosocial well-being is affected as much - or even more - by their living conditions as it is by their experiences of crisis and disaster”. Humanitarian programming must respond to this reality.




Working Together

The report of the most recent learning event in September 2022 was published in January 2023. The learning event was supported by the Global WASH Cluster and the MHPSS Reference Group and focused on exploring how integrated and collaborative cross-sector humanitarian programming can improve physical and mental health. The report includes suggested next steps in order to continue and deepen connections between shelter, WASH and MHPSS.

Further resources 

Please email with further suggestions of resources and links relevant to shelter and health which can inform policy and programming activities for a more integrated response.

There is a large body of literature that highlights the connections between housing and health, relevant for shelter and integrated Shelter/ WASH programming objectives. Literature from development/health academics can be used to inform the identification of interventions that may have beneficial impacts on health and well-being. 

A summary of housing/health literature with a checklist of housing features which can impact health is available here

The Health Through Housing Coalition is a learning portal with an accessible collection of resources on housing and health, created by ARCHIVE Global