Redesign considered for UN emergency kit-bag

The United Nations is looking to redesign its emergency kit-bag of survival equipment for emergency workers to use at refugee camps and scenes of humanitarian disasters.

The potential project brief was conceived when the UN’s High Commission for Refugees invited Helen Hamlyn Centre deputy director Rama Gheerawo and the Norwegian Design Council’s Onny Eikhaug to a group meeting on disability to talk about the people-centred approach to design. During the meeting, the UN’s external affairs division strategic communications co-ordinator Safak Pavey introduced Gheerawo and Eikhaug to the emergency kit, which she believes should be redesigned and retooled.

The kit currently contains items including a tent, rope, torch, eating and cooking utensils, first-aid kits, toiletries, sanitaryware and water purification tablets, according to Gheerawo. ’There were some items that we spent up to five minutes trying to open and other items that would have got dirty as soon as they were opened, which is not what you need in a survival kit,’ says Gheerawo.

He adds that other problems include the fact that the kit is not tailored to specific regions and conditions. ’The bag is massively heavy and feels like you are moving house, and is also like sorting through your bin when you are trying to find something in it,’ says Gheerawo.

’One of the only good things about it is the bright yellow, highly visible colour of the bag’. Pavey revealed the potential project at the Norwegian Design Council’s Innovation for All 2010 conference, which took place in Oslo in May.

She said, ’The UN is an emergency agency first and foremost, so whenever a natural disaster happens, we are there with this kit that we cannot carry, and we cannot open anything in it, and yet it is supposed to be an emergency kit.’ She added, ’We wanted to get together with expert organisations like the Helen Hamlyn Centre.

The UN has a global responsibility to set high standards of design procurement.’ Gheerawo, Pavey and Eikhaug are planning to meet again in the next two months to move the project on and to try to find funding for it.

’We are at such an early stage, and funding is uncertain at the moment,’ says Gheerawo. ’However, while the idea to redesign it is just a good intention, we hope to move very fast on this after the summer.’

Any resulting brief would foreground usercentred research and design methods. ’We would not just have designers working in, say, a London studio, but going out to refugee camps and seeing situations first hand,’ says Gheerawo.

The brief could involve redesigning the bag, finding new products to go into it or repackaging products. ’We are not sure at the moment, it’s all up for grabs,’ says Gheerawo. ’This has become a very active interest for me’.

Disaster relief

  • UNHCR can mobilise up to 300 trained emergency professionals and deploy them within 72 hours to different parts of the world
  • In 2009, UNHCR deployed emergency workers in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Yemen to deal with internal population displacements, as well as in Chad and Ethiopia to assist refugees, and to the Philippines (pictured) following storms and flooding

Source: UNHCR Global Report 2009

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