4.1 Tarps, tents & kits

Emergency shelter kits

An emergency shelter kit contains as a minimum:

  • 2 plastic sheets (tarpaulins), 6m x 4m, or 7m x 4m.
  • Rope, polypropylene, 6mm x 40m

An emergency shelter kit may also include:

  • Tools (shovel, hammer, handsaw, hoe, shears etc.),
  • Fixings (nails, tie wire, rope tensioners, etc)

The use of emergency shelter kits assumes that suitable framing materials or structures are available to fix the plastic sheets to. If these are not available, or obtaining them locally will cause significant environmental damage, two or more 2m long wooden or metal poles may be provided with the kit.

DFID and IFRC have standard emergency shelter kits. See Selecting NFIs for shelter and the IFRC Shelter Kit Guidelines.

Most items, apart from the plastic sheeting, will probably be available in the local market and can be sourced in-country. Suitable specifications for all items listed in the shelter repair kit are available on the IFRC emergency items catalogue.

Plastic sheeting

Plastic sheeting is the main part of an emergency shelter kit. It is important that plastic sheeting provided by CARE is of a suitable specification. The plastic sheeting which is readily available in most markets is usually low quality and will not be durable enough to keep people safe and dry for the duration of their need for shelter.

See here for an excellent overview of why a suitable specification must be used.

Plastic sheeting should always be distributed alongside appropriate training and technical support in its use. As a minimum, information must be given on how to adequately fix plastic sheeting. A basic set of graphical instructions is available: IEC Fixing Plastic Sheeting

See the following videos for examples of best practices: J/P HRO & USAID/OFDA Emergency Shelter Program: Tarp Installation Best Practices in English, French, Haitian Creole, and with Spanish subtitles.

CARE maintains stocks of plastic sheeting in Dubai, and has access to free shipping. CARE Country Offices can contact the Emergency Shelter Team or Logistics Team to enquire about using the stocks.

CARE has master contracts in place for rapid international procurement of high quality plastic sheeting. Contact Joanne Rivera and Stephanie King at CARE USA for support on procurement and to place orders.

The specification for plastic sheeting to be used by CARE is:

The specifications are based on the IFRC specifications, which may also be used.

See Annex 25.10a, b & c for further guidance on the specification and use of plastic sheeting in humanitarian relief in English, French & Spanish respectively.


Tents are a common way of providing emergency shelter, but are bulky, expensive, difficult to repair and may not be durable enough for many situations. They are a good way to provide consistent and weather-proof shelter in a relatively quick time (note that lead times for delivery can be long though). Tents are also relatively easy to ‘winterise’, i.e. to insulate and keep warm in cold climates.

Tents have recently been developed which are fire-retardent. Fires in tents, especially in camp settings, are both common and highly dangerous. However, fire-retardent tents are currently significantly more expensive than non fire-retardent tents. The decision must be made on a case-by-case basis as to which is the most appropriate specification to choose. If non fire-retardent tents are procured it is essential there is a carefully designed and implemented fire risk management system in place, and occupants are given appropriate training in avoiding and dealing with fire.

CARE has master contracts in place for rapid procurement of family tents. Contact Joanne Rivera and Stephanie King at CARE USA for support on procurement and to place orders.

See Annex 25.12 for guidance on the use of tents in humanitarian contexts.

Emergency shelter kits or tents?

It is most often more cost-effective and relevant to use emergency shelter kits, rather than tents. For more information see the Tents or Tarpaulins Guidance Note:

10.0 Tents or tarpaulins

Other shelter kits

Shelter fixing kit

Galvanised nails, roofing nails and tie wire are often among the most requested items as they allow families to rebuild using salvaged materials. These can be collected into a ‘fixing kit’ that complements the tools in the Emergency Shelter kit. Critical items that allow the family to comply with key build-back-safer messages – such as cyclone strapping – should certainly be considered.

The CARE UK shelter team can advise on suitable items and quantities to be included in the fixing kit.