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Scaling Safe Construction in Humanitarian Shelter


This research seeks to investigate strategies to scale safe shelter and housing construction practice in the aftermath of disasters and conflicts in developing communities. Potential areas of focus may include behaviour change and household motivations for safer construction, performance of non-engineered building components, and ‘self-recovery’ strategies in humanitarian shelter programming. Findings will offer policy recommendations to extend the impact of humanitarian shelter assistance in developing communities.


Dr Aaron Opdyke.

Research location

Civil Engineering

Program type



An estimated 90% of populations residing in high seismic risk areas live or work in a non-engineered building (UNESCO 2016). We see similar levels of self-built construction in the aftermath of disasters, with previous research noting that aid agencies rarely reach more than 30% of affected populations affected with shelter and housing assistance (Parrack et al 2014). There are broad gaps in our understanding of how to best support households that fall outside the boundaries of traditional humanitarian aid. Ensuring that these households have the capacity and ability to rebuild safely is vital to global commitments to reduce disaster risk. There is thus a need to unpack both the social drivers of safer construction practice as well as better understand performance of non-engineered construction. This research will seek to answer key questions such as defining what ‘safer’ construction means for humanitarian shelter, unpacking the intersection of household, donor, and aid organisation perceptions of safety, and ultimately exploring why efforts to scale safer construction succeed or fail. 

Additional information

The research project will involve the study of humanitarian shelter and settlements projects in post-disaster or post-conflict states in collaboration with ongoing efforts of the Global Shelter Cluster Promoting Safer Building Working Group. Qualitative and/or quantitative methods will be employed, and the student should have an eagerness to work across disciplines in a multi-cultural team. Possible research methods may include experimental testing and analytical analysis of non-engineered building components, surveys or qualitative analysis involving households and organizations, or social network analysis. Previous work or volunteer experience in international contexts is preferred.
The position will involve periods of time (months) living in the field conducting research. Candidates must be able and willing to travel and live overseas in developing countries in the Asia Pacific, Central America, and/or Middle East regions (maximum 12 months over the PhD). Eligible students are also encouraged to apply for competitive funding via the Australian Government Research Training Program.

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Opportunity ID

The opportunity ID for this research opportunity is 2435