Last year, rumors were hammering about Ikea making prefabricated homes. While those proved to be false, the Swedish company is actually manufacturing houses, albeit temporary ones. The furniture savior for millions of first-world millenials is planning to help millions of refugees, 46% of whom are children. The Ikea Foundation and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are currently testing out shelters that are twice as big as the current refugee tents, last 10 times longer and take only about four hours to assemble. What’s more, each flat-packed shelter will be accessorized with a solar panel that powers a built-in light and a USB outlet, according to a report by Fast Company.
With nearly 45 million displaced people at the end of 2012 — that’s 23,000 people per day being forced to leave their homes and seek protection because of conflict or natural disaster — the U.N. refugee agency currently employs two types of temporary shelters: a lightweight tent for emergencies and one that’s a canvas model. But those tents only last about six months to a year before they start deteriorating from the sun, rain and wind exposure. Per Heggenes, CEO of the Ikea Foundation, tells Fast Company that the current tents “offer little comfort, dignity or security. The existing tents are cold in the winter and hot in the summer. They have no electricity or lighting, limiting refugee families’ ability to lead a normal life.”
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The 188-sq.-ft. Ikea-designed shelters are made from rigid, lightweight plastic attached to a steel frame. Olivier Delarue of the UNHCR explained the new partnership in a press release: “We realised that the plastic sheeting UNHCR was using to build temporary refugee shelters was almost exactly the same material that IKEA used for their bags in stores. We also realised that IKEA had expertise in certain areas — such as logistics and flat packing — that we could learn from.”
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TIME’s Fareed Zakaria shares on CNN that 56 of these tents have already been dispatched in the hard-hit areas of Ethiopia, Lebanon and Iraq for testing. Ethiopia ranks second in the largest number of refugees in relation to its economic capacity, while Lebanon and Iraq have received the bulk of the exodus because of Syria’s civil war. After testing the prototypes, Ikea engineers will make adjustments and start mass-producing the shelters. The Ikea Foundation is also working on other refugee needs, including solar streetlights for the transient communities.
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