Ikea, the Swedish manufacturer that supplies affordable furniture to college students around the world, is working on something new: refugee housing.
London's Guardian reports that Ikea is working on a house that is assembled out of a box, much like an Ikea bookshelf. It reflects heat during the day and holds on to it at night better than a traditional tent. It offers ultraviolet protection and has a solar panel to provide electricity.
Canvas and pole refugee tents have not changed much over the years, the Guardian reports. Tents provided by the U.N. Refugee Agency last about six months in harsh climate conditions. About 10 percent of the world's refugees live in tents, the U.N. agency says. People displaced by war or natural disasters spend an average of 12 years in refugee camps. More durable, more livable structures would be a humane advance.
Ikea has made about 50 trial structures that are expected to be tested in Ethiopia, Iraq and Lebanon. Each house can accommodate five people. It resembles a large garden shed and arrives in a flat box for efficient shipping. Lightweight laminated panels clip onto a frame of poles. These panels last up to three years. These buildings also may be upgradeable, so people could over time make a more lasting shelter with mud walls and a corrugated iron roof.
This is a hopeful development for millions of people. It also raises other possibilities. Assuming the test models hold up as hoped, who will manufacture them? Could it be done here in timber-rich West Virginia, creating more jobs?
Also, adequate housing is a problem around the world, including in West Virginia. Is there anything to learn from this approach? Efficient, easily shipped, easily assembled shelters might be suitable for camps or vacation homes. Maybe a more permanent version could be designed and built here? Something affordable, expandable, customizable, wired and plumbed?
Imagine a healthy, clean, pleasant structure within reach of West Virginia residents and designed with the climate and weather in mind. Imagine it built here, sold here and exported around the world. Shelter is a basic need of human beings. So is an occupation.