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Guidance on Sphere Standards

I am trying to get some clarity on the exact number of people that can occupy an emergency relief tent according to Sphere standards. As I understand it the minimum covered floor area is 3.5m2 per person, however on a report that was sent to my organisation recently I noted that there were different minimum surface areas for different climatic zones (temperate vs cold climate). What is your take on this? I cannot find clear guidance on this in the Sphere handbook. I know this seems like a very basic query and I apologise in advance, but clarity would be extremely useful. Best wishes, Alison Ashlin Operations Coordinator

Shelterbox specification

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In brief 3.5m2 is in a guidance note only - it is not the standard. The standard states " People have sufficient covered living space providing thermal comfort, fresh air and protection from the climate ensuring their privacy, safety and health and enabling essential household and livelihood activities to be undertaken". In general standards are defined locally. UNHCR handbook (2007) gives different figures with different indicators for cold climates.

Good references for this in more detail is section A.2 of this document (which refers to the old edition of sphere):

Haiti Shelter TechnicalGuidance REVISED.pdf

Sphere Handbook (2011 edition) shelter chapter itself (p258)

and this document

Hope this helps and happy to chat about it at any time..


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For cold climatic zones the standard is 4.5m² per person, because you consider adding for example a cooking stove and shower space and others inside the shelter.



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Dear Alison,

The standard for cold climates or urban areas is 4.5-5.5 m2 per person according to UNHCR. But all values, whether the 3.5 or the 4.5-5.5, should always be used in the context of the guidance notes and specific context.


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2013-11-01 08:00:19 -0500
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Last updated:
Nov 14 '13