Making a Temporary Shelter House for Earthquake Survivors (How to)

Upon my visit to Gorkha district with People in Need (PIN), I had an opportunity to work with some of the most honest and diligent people I have ever met. On my last day at Gorkha, I volunteered to join Daniel and Martina to make a model shelter house for the people of Nanglepani. I had absolutely no idea even how to hammer a nail properly, but with their instructions and pragmatic, simple ideas, I managed to pull off the day. At the onset, I had no idea how a shelter house was to be built but, by the end of the day, I had a stream of ideas running through my mind on how to build more shelter houses that can help the people dwell for a time being.

The core idea behind it is to teach the survivors of the earthquake, how to build a temporary shelter house with the resources from their toppled construction. It is meant to encourage the people to build their own shelters instead of waiting for government reliefs and I/NGO aids. Let’s face it, one day they’ve got to rebuild their own homes again, without any external assistance. That’s what it addresses, ‘helping them to help themselves’.

Let’s begin with some rudimental instructions

  1. Clear all the stuffs and clean the designated area.
  2. Level the area if required.
  3. Organize and arrange the available building materials. i.e corrugated irons, bamboos, timbers (into lengths), tarpaulins, plastic coverings etc
  4. Conceive an idea of what to build after observation of the arranged materials.

Stepwise instructions for building a temporary shelter house with corrugated irons, salvaged timbers and tarpaulins: (Because it’s commonly available here in Nepal)

  1. Organize and arrange all materials so that you can know how and what materials you can use.
  1. Arrange the materials as I) Useable ii) Unusable and iii) which can be improvised to use.
  1. De-nail all the nails from the timbers and tin coverings. Keep the old nails and new ones in different packets. (If no new nails are available then you can straighten and re use the old ones)
  1. Start with building the frames. (Squares, rectangular or anyways one wants to). It depends upon what type of roofing you want to head on them.  4.1  Brace each corner of each frame with a diagonal piece of wood at 45 degrees across the corner. 4.2 When nailing one piece to another check that the nail is aiming through good pieces of wood, which it is not splintered or rotten.
  1. Dig holes enough to support the frames. Fill the bottom of the holes with some stones prior to applying the frame structure. The stones help to drain the holes of water keeping the wood from rotting at the base. When the frame is standing in the holes compact more stones around the base of the frame to hold it in place.
  1. After the frame structures are complete, apply as many more braces as you can so that it becomes stronger. Join the frame structures with timber which acts as a beam. Add additional supporting beam in the middle so that it supports the tin (covering later). Try to position the centre support beam for the tin in a way that it corresponds to the old holes in the tin so that you can nail it down to secure it and also fill the old holes without creating more holes in the tin.
  1. Apply the corrugated irons with roofing nails where it has already been spiked. 7.1 To avoid putting more holes in the tin you can weigh in down with timbers (if available) so as to  cover a few pieces of each tin. (Avoid using stones as weights). Apply the tin coverings or tarpaulins on the sides, depending on what is available and how you have envisaged the shelter house. (Make sure they are applied so as to let the air ventilate properly and the rain can’t get in). Do it as required.
  1. Dig a drainage trench around the temporary shelter/home.
  1. This should do the trick for at least 6 months depending upon the construction materials used. Maintenance, repair and improvisations should be considered.


Important Note: Always remember to use your imagination from the outset. Since, all one needs are nails and hammer, do read, think, group some friends, volunteer to build a model house, inculcate the locals and persuade them to build more by themselves and share your success story. You can share, copy and even steal these instructions. However, Nepali language translation would be highly commended. 


To learn about the activities of People in Need at Gorkha: Together With Gorkha 

For more information on this matter: (Facebook Page)

Daniel Innes Martina Květounová