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.
Wood, earth bricks, and other natural resources are often used in shelter and settlements works, and those resources are often depleted or not available close to areas where they are needed. Factors such as soil erosion, deforestation, water depletion diminish these resources. Poorly managed extraction processes can also pollute the air, water, and soil and cause temporary or permanent damage to ecosystems, flora, and fauna.
In addition, poorly managed construction processes can lead to the release of toxic materials, present in the soil or water, into shelters and settlements. Those toxic elements are may be present from previous human polluting activities (pesticides from agriculture, petroleum products, radon, asbestos, lead, chromate copper arsenate, and creosote).
Vulnerable people, who are often excluded, should be consulted regarding their needs and preferences, and their knowledge of traditional construction materials.
Loss of biodiversity and ecosystems
Natural resource depletion
1. Air, water, and soil pollution and damage to fragile ecosystems due to extraction, processing, and transport of shelter and infrastructure materials
2. Extraction methods unsustainably deplete resources
3. Air, soil, and water contamination and damage to fragile ecosystems due to uncontrolled construction activities
4. Lack of contractors’ environmental policies can lead to pollution
5. Community unsustainable resource extraction to meet materials demands or supplement livelihoods
6. Supply of poor quality materials can lead to further waste and natural resource depletion
1. Procurement, extraction, processing, and transport of construction materials can consume non-renewable or low-regenerative capacity natural resources and harm fragile ecosystems. Natural resource extraction includes activities dedicated to the procurement of sand, gravel, rock, oil, natural gas, wood, and other natural materials that are obtained by excavation, drilling, boring, or other methods.
2. Extraction methods usually deplete the source if not managed sustainably. In addition, extraction activities depend on the use of water, which is also a natural resource affected communities depend on. If water is polluted, excess trees or vegetation cut, or migration routes and breeding grounds disrupted, then ecosystems can fail, which affects the health of flora and fauna and ultimately affects the health and wellbeing of people.
3. Whether construction works are undertaken by individual householders, the community, by humanitarian actors, or by contractors, the procurement, site clearance, construction, and waste management processes can all have significant environmental impacts. Where individual householders or community groups undertake self-build, impacts can be increased if there is no agreed standard approach to procurement, transport, clearance, construction, and waste management.
4. Contractors also may not have good or effective environmental policies and practices in place, or they may be ignored if there is insufficient supervision of the implementation of these policies.
5. Individuals and families may feel compelled to unsustainably extract resources to save market purchase costs or to sell for profit to pay for their construction costs.
6. If supplied materials are not good enough quality for their intended construction use, or they don’t fit with cultural preferences or are not appropriate to local climatic conditions, affected people may be forced to replace them from other sources, which can lead to further natural resource depletion and waste and ecosystem damage and potential harm to human health
1. Design procurement processes to protect the long-term sustainability of natural resources and protect fragile ecosystems and prevent pollution.
2a. Source locally when sustainability, quality, cultural acceptance can be ensured.
2b. Source construction materials from renewable resources and plan for remediation actions before, during, and after the works
2c. Incorporate indigenous materials and designs
3a. Develop a construction management plan that includes environmental sustainability, with community and stakeholder input
3b. Ensure the construction management plan addresses sustainable or reduced environmental impacts and pollution from procurement, transport, site clearance, construction, and waste
3c. Ensure the construction management plan identifies and protects environmentally fragile sites and locations
3d. Include a procurement plan to mitigate potential materials bottlenecks and harmful sourcing
4. Ensure suppliers and contractors have effective environmental policies and practices
5. Support alternative livelihoods and sustainable sources of natural resources
6. Implement materials quality checks at the point of source.
1. Design the procurement, extraction, processing, and transport of construction materials to protect the long-term sustainability of natural resources and to protect fragile ecosystems. Design to prevent over-abstraction of water, timber, or other natural resources and to prevent pollution of air, water, and soil. Preference should be given to locally sourced materials rather than imported materials when it is adequately demonstrated that they are available in sufficient quantities and at appropriate costs, quality, and culturally accepted.
2a. Sourcing locally available materials reduce environmental impacts associated with transportation and distribution. For naturally sourced materials, the provisioning and regeneration capacity of local sources should be considered to avoid over-extraction. This should be done considering the ecosystems these materials/resources support or make part of – for example aggregate dredging is devastating to rivers, deltas, and coastal zones. Local procurement reduces the environmental impacts associated with the supply chain. Sustainable practices or material sourcing should form part of the procurement selection criteria, with contract clauses for selected suppliers. Prioritize suppliers/producers who engage in environmentally sustainable and ethical practices and can demonstrate that they are not contributing to significant conversion or degradation of natural or critical habitats.
2b. Source construction materials from renewable resources when possible and if extraction activities from an environmentally sensitive area are the only option, plan for remediation actions before, during, and after the works, aiming for sustainability and minimizing the damages, using minimum resources with maximum efficiency. The materials should cause no harmful emissions, and ideally should be made of recyclable, sustainable materials; they should also be easy to manufacture and construct, as well as light in weight.
2c. Incorporate indigenous materials and designs understanding the building properties in their local context (for example, if an agency decides to utilize bamboo, it must not only know how best to use the bamboo structurally but the proper time to cut it; how to recognize whether it has been cured properly; how to treat it for different climatic conditions; and what materials to use with it, etc.)
3a. Develop a construction management plan that includes environmental sustainability. This may be in collaboration with householders, community groups, contractors, or other shelter responders.
3b. Ensure the construction management plan addresses sustainable or reduced environmental impacts and pollution from procurement, transport, site clearance, construction, and waste management processes
3c. Ensure the construction management plan identifies and protects environmentally fragile sites and locations within sites.
3d. Include a procurement plan to mitigate potential materials bottlenecks as different agencies try to procure shelter materials from the same suppliers, in order to avoid extracting or obtaining materials in environmentally sensitive areas resulting in ecosystems or biodiversity damage. For example, using similar materials to those used by host communities leverages existing extraction, production, and supply chain processes which, if previously well regulated, can have lower environmental impacts. However, these chains can be overwhelmed in cases of sudden increased demand, potentially leading to unsustainable sourcing practices. Evaluate the quantities and types of materials being used in building designs to minimize the total amount of materials used and to maximize the use of renewable resources. Do this by maintaining accurate bills of quantities and minimizing the amount of raw material used in the design in order to alleviate environmental impacts. Engineering strategies can be employed to optimize structural strength while using fewer raw material quantities.
4. Ensure contracts require any suppliers and contractors to have effective environmental policies and practices
5. Support families in finding alternative livelihoods or sustainable/alternative sources of natural resources
6. Put in place materials quality checks at the point of source, and reject any that are substandard, or that don’t fit with cultural preferences or are not appropriate to local climatic conditions.
CASE STUDY: Kosovo, asbestos management in 2000
Following the cessation of hostilities in 2000, reconstruction efforts in Kosovo began with the clearance of damaged buildings and infrastructure. Demolition work included numerous industrial and private buildings which contained asbestos in both the roofing sheets as well as lagging for pipe insulation.
As part of its demolition support to Kosovo, the Danish funded WDR (Waste Demolition Recycling) team established an asbestos removal team which included:
– six Kosovar asbestos operatives trained specifically in asbestos removal;
– the necessary Personal Protective Equipment for use in asbestos removal;
‘- the necessary asbestos removal equipment such as containers, a generator-powered air pump for creating negative air pressure in the sealed working area, as well as tenting material to create a safe working area;
– a specially designed welfare container with showers and a decontamination zone for the personnel to use on-site.
The asbestos removal team supported various international NGOs, the UN, and local authorities in the safe removal of the asbestos which was then disposed of at designated landfill cells in Kosovo.
Contracted activities followed environmental guidelines and procedures
Prevention of environmental damage
Field and desktop research to understand the differences in availability of natural resources in every site and carry out appropriate actions that prevent or mitigate damage to the environment