Shelters in Kathmandu

May 16, 2015

Shelter is going to be a major issue in the upcoming months. In many places, food and tents are relatively inexpensive and easier to deliver than a shelter that will outlast this monsoon.It has already started raining  in Nepal, not with monsoon regularity but enough to get people worried and make the lives of the displaced uncomfortable and unsafe.

Galvanized Iron Sheets (Tin or Jasta) are going to be a core of the solution to the shelter problem. The Government of Nepal has recently announced that it will distribute two bundles of GI Sheets to those whose house was destroyed or is uninhabitable. People in Nepal have been using GI sheets for roofing in their homes, temporary structures such as road-side shops, booths at fairs, cow sheds, and temporary homes (Tahara or Chhapro) for a long time. There is no doubt that we will utilize these sheets with the knowledge and experience we have accumulated over the last many decades. We are already starting to see people use these sheets to create shelters for themselves.

The last few days I have been visiting many places in Kathmandu and have seen three types of new designs in which GI Sheets are used to create standalone shelters that are shaped like cylindrical domes.

I saw Type1 shelters in Tudikhel. The roof and the the sidewalls are made out of GI sheets that are held in shape with bent metal frame inside the dome. The roof also has a translucent sheet to let light inside. The back wall is also made out of GI sheets placed vertically. The top part of the back wall has a metal grill to let air in. The front wall has a door that looks like a sheet metal door that extends from the floor to the roof. The door has a latch system for locking. On the two sides of the door are GI sheets on the bottom and metal grill on the top allowing air circulation. The home looks sturdy and a reasonable place to stay until the destroyed homes are rebuilt or new homes are built. The signs on the home indicate these are built by Arun Chaudhary Foundation. We asked people milling about these shelters how these homes will be used. Someone said, these homes will be handed over to the Army and the Army will come up with a way to use them. Their guess is they will be used to house medical services or other public services. There were five or six of these shelters. We saw a few workers finishing up one of these homes. We asked them how much these shelters cost. The answer was between Rs. 35,000 and Rs. 40,000.

I saw one Type2 shelter in Kalimati. This is similar to Type1 in many ways but seemed less sophisticated. The main difference is lack of skylight and the side walls being built without GI sheets. The front and back walls had drawing for window grills that would probably be made later. There were lots of people interested to learn more about these shelters. Some were looking outside. Some inside and discussing these shelters. Some were opening and closing the door to test the integrity of the structure. The signs on the outside of front wall say that these shelters are being built with technical assistance from Hamro Abhiyan ( At the time of this writing, the website was not avaialble. These shelters are called “Earthquake Friendly House”. The writing on the inside wall of the door put the price tag at about Rs. 40,000.

Type3 shelters are the most primitive and also the most inexpensive. These are simply GI sheets held in the shape of a dome by bent iron rods. There are no walls in the front and the back. These are built by Portal Bikes in Jhamsikhel. The cost is about Rs. 10,000. The main technical equipment needed is a way to bend iron rods (readily available in Nepal) into a semi-circle. A few of these semi-circular rods are staked to the ground to form the frame on which the GI sheets are attached to form a dome shelter. One challenge with these shelters is the lack of front and the back walls. We then traveled to Sankhu in the outskirts of Kathmandu to get a sense of how these shelters are being deployed and used. There are already in the order of 20 shelters that are being used near the Sankhu bus park area. We were most curious about the walls in the front and the back. People have been improvising with materials harvested from the rubble, or tarps, traditional wall construction with wood, and in one case building another traditional structure (vertical wooden legs and sheets on top and sides) to cover
one of the walls of these shelters. Another challenge in these shelters could be the floor, especially during the rain. Some people have put on layer of brick to make an elevated floor on which these shelters are placed. Some have placed this directly on the paddy fields (khet). Some have put in tarps. Some have dug a small trench surrounding the shelter to drain away water that may collect. We need new and effective ideas that can utilize locally available materials to make these shelters more usable: one should be able to get in and out of the shelter easily; it should keep away rain; it should easily drain any water that may come in; it should last a few months; ideally some consideration of ventilation and light; it should be inexpensive.

GI Sheets are a familiar technology in Nepal yet these new types of shelters are not. People seem curious and pleasantly surprised about the possibility of building such shelters with GI sheets. If one walks around the demo sites for these shelters, one can sense a lot of excitement and hope.

By Omprakash Gnawali, Posting to

Credit: Travel logistics Shyam Gnawali, Rajesh Rajbhandari, Paul Chhetri


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