The relationship between protection and the environment



The work of the Protection Cluster aims at taking action to keep people safe from violence, coercion and deliberate deprivation. Humanitarian actors need to take steps to understand and mitigate associated risks. Protection of affected people in the humanitarian space is guided by the following four commonly agreed upon principles:

  1. Enhance the safety, dignity and rights of people, and avoid exposing them to harm.
  2. Ensure people’s access to assistance according to need and without discrimination.
  3. Assist people to recover from the physical and psychological effects of threatened or actual violence, coercion and deliberate deprivation.
  4. Help people claim their rights.1

Protection principle 1 encompasses the environment in its objective to avoid exposing people to harm. Humanitarian activities can have unintended impacts on the environment that lead to people’s safety, dignity and rights being compromised, whether from an individual or group perspective.

For example:

The degree of protection for affected people is directly related to the extent humanitarian actors are able to address above-mentioned key concerns in programming and implementation. If these links are overseen, patterns might be re-enforced (e.g. increased use of fuelwood and water) which not only increase environmental stresses but also increase the risk to the population. Consequently, a thorough analysis of the links between environmental factors and protection is needed. Answering the following question might help as first step to include protection and environment into programming and implementation:

In times of increasing effects of climate change, the above-mentioned patterns are most likely to further increase. It is therefore imperative for actors engaged in humanitarian operations at all levels to be aware of the linkages and take them into account in their programming and implementation activities.


Key Resource

The Bahamas: Rapid assessment of acute environmental risks after Hurricane Dorian

This report provides an overview of the response to the environmental impacts of Hurricane Dorian. Dorian made landfall as a Category 5 hurricane in The Bahamas on 1 September 2019, leaving a trail of devastation behind.

The full report is accessible here.

This report is divided into three parts, which can also be accessed individually below:

  1. An overview of the response;
  2. The response on Abaco Islands;
  3. The response on Grand Bahama Island.


Drone view of Marsh Harbour, Abaco Islands, The Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian (© Samaritan’s Purse)


Executive Summary

Key environmental concerns in the aftermath of Dorian included: i) the management of large quantities of disaster waste generated by the hurricane; ii) the confirmed inland spill of crude oil and any potential spills at sea from Equinor’s oil storage facility on Grand Bahama Island; and iii) any potential secondary and cascading impacts resulting from damages to the numerous hazardous operation facilities located on Abaco and Grand Bahama Islands.

To support the government-led response to Hurricane Dorian, a United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team was deployed to The Bahamas from 8 to 28 September. The team embedded an environmental expert from the UNEP/OCHA Joint Environment Unit (JEU).

The main objective of the overall mission was to provide technical advice to national and local authorities to rapidly identify, assess and mitigate any negative environmental impacts following the event, with an emphasis on those that posed immediate life-threatening risks to humans (both local communities and responders); advise on required follow-up actions; promote the early integration of environmental considerations in assessments and overall response efforts; facilitate knowledge sharing and information exchange among national and international counterparts on environmental matters; and deliver recommendations accordingly.

The mission outcomes showed that special considerations on hazardous waste should be incorporated in a comprehensive disaster waste management strategy and any ongoing clean-up efforts should be linked to this strategy.


Additional Resources

For additional resources, please refer to the following news articles on the topic:

  1. UN Environment Programme: Weathering the storm after Hurricane Dorian
  2. UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs: Averting a second killer wave: The environmental impacts of hurricanes



Key Resource

Bidibidi Refugee Settlement: Environmental Scoping Report and Recommendations


The report presents the results of a September 2019 environmental scoping mission by the UN Environment Programme / OCHA Joint Environment Unit (JEU) and Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). The Bidibidi Refugee Settlement is located in the West Nile Area of Uganda, and is home to over 270,000 South Sudanese refugees — the second largest refugee settlement in the world.


The purpose of the mission was to highlight key areas of environmental risk in the NRC West Nile Programme while using, testing and promoting the Nexus Environmental Assessment Tool (NEAT+). The mission was financially supported by NRC, UNEP and OCHA.

Environmental Scoping in Uganda

The scoping took place in Bidibidi Settlement Zones 3 and 5, locations of a future NRC and partner funded European Union Trust Fund (EUTF) programme with a strong emphasis on agriculture and food security.

These zones were chosen in order to test the differences in environmental sensitivity between the newest established Zone 5 and the older Zone 3. Bidibidi Refugee Settlement was opened in August 2016 to accommodate a high influx of South Sudanese refugees.

To support the needs of the South Sudanese refugees, who primarily come from the Equatoria region, and the host communities of Bidibidi refugee settlement, there are over 30 civil society and government organizations working within Bidibidi.

Current environmental dialogue about Bidibidi is often focused on minimizing land degradation and deforestation, due to host and refugee community dependence on biomass for fuel. This concern is well documented by both government and and civil society organizations, with several mitigation strategies already underway.

The scoping mission additionally identified environmental concerns that seem under-defined by current programmes of work in Bidibidi. Of particular concern is the lack of waste management, leading to increased risks to human health, and lack of awareness about environmentally sustainable behaviours.

Further reading/Download

The findings of this report are based on a combination of a field test of the NEAT+, eight focus group discussions including participatory mapping with refugee and host community groups, and a secondary data review.

Download the full report here.


To learn more about NEAT+ please visit

To find out how it can support your organization’s planning, contact the UN Environment/Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Joint Unit (


Key Resource

Operational Guidelines and Field Manual on Human Rights Protection in Situations of Natural Disaster

These guidelines help people in the field to understand the human rights dimensions of their work in disaster response while giving them practical examples and operational steps about how some of these seemingly abstract concepts may be implemented.


Key Resource

IASC Operational Guidelines on the Protection of Persons in Natural Disasters

The IASC Guidelines promote a rights-based approach in situations of natural disasters by laying out operational guidelines for humanitarian responders


Additional Resource

Evaluating Climate Vulnerability in Humanitarian Hotspots

This study, conducted in 2019, focuses on the definition of climate vulnerability with operational and political perspectives and delivers guidelines for assessing climate vulnerability in long-term crises, such as in conflict-affected countries and recurrent disaster-prone areas.

The research draws on an extensive academic literature review in the fields of biology, political science, sociology and geography. It derives data from a variety of innovative projects and methods in the field of development and humanitarian aid, induced and encouraged by the Grand Bargain. In addition, the research offers a contribution to the IKI Project carried out by the UNEP/OCHA Joint Environment Unit in the refugee camp of Gitega Province in Burundi.

The study is available in French only.


Additional Resource

Reducing environmental impact in humanitarian response – Sphere Thematic Sheet

Sphere recently published a new resource that offers hands-on guidance to practitioners looking to consider environmental issues in their humanitarian programmes. It is the first in a series of thematic sheets that will discuss some of the core issues in humanitarian response and the 2018 Sphere Handbook’s relevance to them.

Photo: Kate Holt/IRIN

To understand what a thematic sheet is and discuss environmental issues for humanitarians more broadly, Sphere talked to the author, Amanda George. A humanitarian professional with extensive experience in environmental and sustainability issues and climate change adaptation, she was directly involved in drafting the Sphere Handbook as a thematic expert, engaged through the Swedish Red Cross.

She is currently an international Environment in Humanitarian Action consultant, working closely with the UNEP/OCHA Joint Environment Unit.

To read the full interview with Amanda George, click here.

To download the Sphere Environment Thematic Sheet, choose from the four languages below:

  1. English – Thematic Sheet Environment;
  2. French – Thematic Sheet Environment;
  3. Arabic – Thematic Sheet Environment;
  4. Spanish – Thematic Sheet Environment.

Additional Resource

Flood Resilience Portal

The Flood Resilience Portal is a tool which provides open access to resources to build resiliency to floods. It issues reviews of past responses and provides community-specific flood resilience measurements.


Additional Resource

WHO UNFCCC – Climate and Health Country Profile Project

The WHO UNFCCC Climate and Health Country Profile Project provides country-specific estimates of current and future climate hazards. It also identifies the  effects of climate change on human health and identifies mitigation and policy change actions. The data is collected via biennial surveys and was completed in 2017. The next series will be released in 2019 and will cover approximately 80 countries.



Additional Resource

UN Environment ‘Quick guides’ on how humanitarian action can minimize environmental impacts

The ‘Quick guides’ contain key guidance on environmental issues relevant to six sectors of (viz. Food Security and Agriculture Sector, Basic Needs Sector, Health Sector, Education Sector, Protection Sector and Livelihood Sector) of humanitarian response to population displacement. They underscore the opportunities to minimize negative environmental impacts during humanitarian action. These quick guides are developed by UN Environment mostly for humanitarian action in urban setting. Please download the Quick Guides here.

Additional Resource

Gender-based violence and environment

This UN Environment graphic overview highlights the links between gender-based violence and environment


Additional Resource

Protection in Natural Disasters

The Brookings‐Bern Project on Internal Displacement paper discusses differences and similarities in the protection of people affected by natural disas ters and by conflict, delineates some of the obstacles to effective protection, and describes a framework for protection response, the Inter Agency Standing Committee’s Operational Guidelines on Human Rights in Natural Disasters.


Additional Resource

WEDO: Gender and Biodiversity

Women’s Environment and Development Organization study on the relationship between Gender and Biodiversity, also relevant for protection cluster


Additional Resource

Age, Gender and Diversity in UNHCR operations

How UNHCR covers Age, Gender and Diversity. Provides valuable follow up information on topics indirectly related to environmental factors.


Additional Resource

2018 JRP for Rohingya Humanitarian Crises

The Rohingya Humanitarian Crises highlights the close link between protection and environmental factors. The chapter on protection calls for protection planning that takes into account environmental factors.


Additional Resource

The ProVention Consortium

The ProVention Consortium is a global coalition of international organizations, governments, the private sector, civil society organizations and academic institutions dedicated to increasing the safety of vulnerable communities and to reducing the impacts of disasters in developing countries.

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