Virtual Environmental and Humanitarian Adviser Tool – (VEHA Tool) is a tool
to easily integrate environmental considerations in humanitarian response. Field Implementation guidances are useful for the design and execution of humanitarian activities in the field.

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VEHA - Field Implementation Guidance

Non-agricultural livelihoods
Protecting livelihoods
Cash for work for environmental management

Cash for work for environmental management


Environmental factors causing/contributing to the needs and affecting the humanitarian activity

Evidence has shown that in the right circumstances, giving people cash is a superior and less expensive way to meet their needs that helps give people choice and dignity and reduces their sense of dependency on external solutions.

CVA gives independence and local empowerment to people in need. It provides households with flexibility in identifying and meeting their priority needs. It also reduces costs and the environmental impact of procurement, transport, and storage, whilst supporting local livelihoods and markets.

The use of cash as an assistance modality brings both opportunities and new complexities in the interaction between humanitarian relief and environmental impacts.

Negative impacts may emerge when markets and local supply chains are unregulated and unsustainable or when the type of goods and services procured inadvertently increase risk. It may be necessary to put conditionalities or restrictions on CVA if negative environmental impacts are observed. These could include people using the cash to buy equipment or transport to unsustainably deplete natural resources for income. Unrestricted cash and cash from re-selling distributed food or food purchased with vouchers may be used to fund unsustainable or illicit environmentally damaging coping mechanisms.

If CVA has indirect and unintentional negative impacts on the environment, programme staff should identify, anticipate and reduce their potential negative environmental effects, as they would in any other type of aid programme.

Cash for work (CfW) programmes can create dependency and can prevent people from engaging in long-term sustainable livelihoods. CfW can be designed to have a positive impact on the environment, address environmental hazards, environmental protection issues, and encourage community environmental behavior change.

Where markets and livelihoods are not functioning, food/cash for Work can be used as a mechanism to sustain a target population whilst restoring infrastructure that enables markets and livelihoods to function. This can help communities to avoid resorting to environmentally harmful coping strategies. However, any CfW initiatives should be designed such that they support people and do not prohibit them from re-establishing their normal or new alternative sustainable livelihoods.

CVA should aim to reduce environmentally harmful coping and adaptation strategies, particularly in forced displacement contexts. The overexploitation of natural resources (that are perceived to be or promoted as being ‘free’) is very common in crisis contexts. As a result, organisations need to anticipate the environmental consequences of CVA and plan more mitigation measures. The prevention and reduction of negative impacts on the environment should be part of any impact analysis, particularly in situations that are long-lasting, but where there is an unsustainable concentration of people (IDP or refugee camps).

This activity could apply to interventions related to protection/preservation/restoration of the environment or preparedness and mitigation of environmental risks

Gender, age, disability and HIV/AIDS implications

The most vulnerable (marginalised groups, women/children heading households) might be the ones most likely to feel forced to resort to environmentally unsustainable/unsafe coping strategies.

Particular attention should be given to understanding their needs, as well as ensuring their participation. Involving at-risk groups in environmental food for work activities could help to empower them as drivers of change and positive environmental impact.

However, women are often targeted for LHs support without assessing their capacities. There is some literature evidence that women’s resilience is reduced by taking on too many additional/alternative LHs. It is often more effective to consider the needs and capacities of the whole household.


Environmental impact categories

Air pollution
Soil pollution
Water pollution
Climate change
Loss of biodiversity and ecosystems
Natural Resource Depletion
Soil erosion
Increased drought/flood

Summary of Impacts
Summary of potential environmental impacts

Poorly planned Cash for work activities may damage the environment, deplete natural resources, reduce natural drainage, pollute air, water, soil, harming ecosystems and flora and fauna.

Pollution or solid waste management challenges may be caused if food items or tools are provided in excess and unrecyclable / non-biodegradable packaging.

Air pollution from transportation of non-locally available items.

Unsustainable environmental coping strategies where Food / Cash for Work is not sufficient to meet household needs.

Well-designed CfW activities can reduce environmental impacts or even mitigate existing impacts.

Impact detail
Detailed potential environmental impact information

Cash for work is often designed as a means to repair damage to infrastructure caused by humanitarian disasters. However, too often, the environmental impacts of these activities are not considered.

The building of roads, bridges, drainage channels, water supplies, etc, can easily damage the environment if they are not properly assessed and designed. Construction activities can unsustainably deplete natural resources such as timber, stone, gravel, and water; natural drainage channels can be obstructed, damaged or groundwater recharge reduced by over compacting the soil. Activities may pollute the air, water, and soil through the disposal of construction, disaster or agricultural waste, or waste burning. Excavating and construction activities can harm ecosystems and flora and fauna.

Pollution or solid waste management challenges may be caused if food items or tools are provided in excess and unrecyclable/non-biodegradable packaging. Air pollution is usually also caused by the transportation of food and non-food items when they are procured remotely. Community members may feel that they are forced into unsustainable environmental coping strategies where Food/Cash for Work is not sufficient to meet household needs.

Whilst the use of Cash for Work may be designed to strengthen the environment, this requires the input of environmental experts to assess the likely impacts of activities to ensure they are not displacing damage and that any benefits will be sustained.

As cash for work for environmental benefits is rarely likely to turn into viable sustainable livelihoods for affected people, the risk of this approach is that whilst people are engaging in CfW, they are not able to work on restoring or replacing their previous livelihoods. There is therefore a risk that this humanitarian activity may make people more vulnerable.


Summary of environmental activities

Ensure CfW is not forcing people into unsustainable environmental coping strategies

Ensure CfW is not preventing people from restoring their pre-crisis or new alternative sustainable livelihoods

Mixed approaches to control environmental costs (In-kind distribution with Cash/vouchers assistance)

Combine cash/vouchers assistance with eco-friendly adaptation or recovery activities

Humanitarian action can include using nature-based solutions as part of an overall adaptation strategy

Require suppliers to reduce the environmental impact of packaging.

Source food, tools, and commodities locally were sustainable. Reduce emissions of remote sourcing.

Detailed guidance for implementing suggested environmental activities

Food/Cash for Work activities should be assessed to identify potential environmental impacts including depleting natural resources, reducing natural drainage, polluting air, water, soil, harming ecosystems and flora and fauna. Activities should be redesigned to reduce or mitigate these impacts.

Contracts with suppliers should include clauses to reduce packaging where possible and ensure packaging is reusable, recyclable, returnable, or compostable.

Food, tools, and commodities should be sourced locally where they can be confirmed as environmentally sustainable and of sufficient quality. If there is no alternative but to source remotely then efficient transport routes and vehicles should be used to minimise air pollution from transportation.

Household needs should be properly assessed to ensure CfW activities provide adequate assistance so that affected populations do not feel forced into adopting unsustainable environmental coping strategies to supplement their income. The Minimum Expenditure Basket (MEB) should be used to calculate the size of unrestricted multipurposed transfers.

Humanitarian action can include using nature-based solutions as part of an overall adaptation strategy, such as planting cash crops that also stabilise slopes or provide flood defense. Nature-based solutions are defined by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as “actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural or modified ecosystems, that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits”.

Direct intervention by supplying equipment and food can, in certain cases, help to control the environmental impact of humanitarian responses. In-kind assistance can give humanitarian actors the possibility of buying sustainable products that are in keeping with beneficiaries’ preferences and needs, without transferring the responsibility for buying these products to the beneficiaries (via CVA) who are unable to make such choices (due to consumption habits or the fact that such alternatives are not available).

Aid organisations could more systematically include CfW in environmentally-friendly climate change adaptation and economic recovery processes. As soon as the situation allows (at the end of an emergency phase), CfW should be closely linked to economic support activities (training, technical support, access to community-based savings and micro-credit, etc.) and possibly also to awareness/education programmes related to environmental protection and eco-friendly practices (consumption, construction, etc.). To contribute to the preservation of the environment or disaster risk reduction (DRR), such programmes should systematically be preceded by an environmental assessment.

CfW project-related emissions or carbon footprint should be assessed. This can be difficult. Try to anticipate:

· Behaviour of CfW recipients (consumption, repayment of debts, productive investment, etc.). The use of electronics enables monitoring of spending. However, it is important to make sure that the technological benefits of this method are not given priority overreaching the most vulnerable beneficiaries. The latter may not be able to maintain functioning equipment or an internet connection, or they may not be in a region where there is a connection (such as in Mali).

· Define the origins of the products and services that beneficiaries buy on the market: how have they been produced and processed at the different stages of the production chain (use of pesticides, chemicals, plastic, etc.)

Assess energy needs (and the related costs when fuel is not taken directly from the natural environment) within the MEB. This can limit the adoption of environmentally harmful practices such as cutting trees or bushes, particularly in contexts of displacement. In practice, the majority of MEBs do not include energy needs, but if they do, they are based on the current needs and expenditure of households, and the CVA does not aim to modify these to make them more eco-friendly. However, taking energy-related expenditure into account in MEBs is complex due to the fluctuation of household needs (seasonal changes for example).

Lessons Learnt
Lessons from past experiences

Cash and food for work activities have been criticised by some undermining people’s ability to build their own livelihoods, creating dependency, and the work itself causing environmental damage.

These negative impacts should be considered in programme design.

Activity Measurement
Environmental indicators/monitoring examples

Number of CfW activities designed for environmental enhancement

Activity Status
Main Focus
Focus of suggested activities

Environmental enhancement

Resource implications (physical assets, time, effort)

Time to assess and design potential CfW activities and review and amend to ensure they are providing environmental benefits wherever possible.

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