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

Essential Healthcare - Sexual and reproductive health
Reproductive, maternal and newborn healthcare
Delivering family planning/contraception methods as well as safe abortion care and post-abortion contraception

Delivering family planning/contraception methods as well as safe abortion care and post-abortion contraception


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

Environmental factors such as air pollution or poor water quality may influence the use of hygiene items and make the provision of hygiene items necessary. For example, the lack of adequate water for hygiene actions may require external sources of water or substitutes such as hand sanitizer instead of water and soap. Environmental factors affect the way in which hygiene items are provided or distributed. These include remote or local procurement, packaging, and transport. High levels of humidity or rainfall might make it necessary to wrap items in impermeable packaging or tarpaulins, which require planning for their re-use, return, or disposal after distribution. Local climatic and environmental factors can increase the use of hygiene items or accelerate the deterioration of stored hygiene items. Local environmental hazards can affect distribution such as road deterioration by landslides, or extreme weather events that prevent transportation by air or waterways.

Gender, age, disability and HIV/AIDS implications

Women and girls are disproportionately affected by the lack of access to basic water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities, due to their needs during periods of increased vulnerability to infection around menstruation and reproduction cycles. Additionally, other groups may have special needs in terms of health and hygiene practices. For this reason, disaggregate and understand the different groups of people in the community that may have special needs and behaviours when performing hygiene actions. Regarding other groups such as persons with disabilities or HIV/AIDS, create special messages explaining actions that are environmentally sensitive regarding special items they may be using. For example, pregnant women with HIV and their newborns will need more specific care than pregnant women without HIV. Thus, healthcare facilities should offer STD testing to all pregnant women. Regarding sexual health items, messages need to be oriented towards the safe disposal of items such as condoms. Condoms cause problems by clogging sewage drains.

Girls and women in low-resource and emergency contexts without access to adequate menstrual hygiene management facilities and supplies can experience stigma and social exclusion while also foregoing important educational, social, and economic opportunities.


Environmental impact categories

Air pollution
Soil pollution
Water pollution

Summary of Impacts
Potential environmental impacts
  • Water sources, air, and soil can become polluted through the increased volume of waste and spills, and disease vectors created by piled wasted items.
  • Increased accumulation of packaging, containers, and bottles may result in physical pollution and blockage of water sources, streams, and end up in rivers, lakes, and the ocean. Air pollution can also occur as waste breaks down and releases polluting gases; as well as from the transportation of items.
  • Condoms cause problems by clogging sewage drains which can lead to drainage problems and wastewater management creating spills and polluting surrounding water sources and soil.
Impact detail
Detailed potential environmental impact information
  • Disposal of excess waste through physical dumping or burning can cause pollution which can exceed the recovery capacity of the local environment and can contribute to local health hazards.
  • Delivery of items can have negative effects on the environment if not well planned, or if the needs and behaviour of individuals and communities are not appropriately assessed. When delivered items do not match with the cultural preferences of affected communities, items may be unneeded, unused, and wasted, or may be re-sold in local markets so that targeted people can use the money to purchase the items they really need. Also, when items are used in locations where there is limited local waste management and recycling infrastructure waste can end up creating breeding locations for disease vectors; causing injury to animals and human health; and degrading or being burned to cause water, soil, and air pollution.


Summary of environmental activities

1a. Ensure good practice household needs assessment, taking into account all people in the household, identify required kits and content based on a balance of culture, context, and locally available sustainable products.

Involve men, and women, and adolescent boys and girls in separate and private discussions.

1b. Where possible, source sustainably produced items. If items can be produced sustainably locally, this will also reduce transport emissions and support the recovery of the local economy.

2. Provide temporary waste collection, sorting, recycling, and disposal facilities and support the development of local waste management and recycling livelihoods.

3. Deliver reusable materials (when accepted and preferred by affected people – training/awareness-raising may be necessary to increase acceptance and uptake) and create a strategy for safe disposal or reuse of those materials. Negotiate with suppliers to reduce packaging and weight and ensure distribution using the most efficient transport routes and to seek to produce items that are durable that can also be reused, repurposed, recycled, and/or will biodegrade. Provide community education on use, repurposing, recycling, and disposal.

Detailed potential environmental impact information

1a. Items that can be recycled, repurposed or resold after initial use should be introduced alongside assessing the behaviour of assisted people, and providing them with items they usually use and are comfortable to use, in order to avoid waste.

1b. Search for biodegradable options that can be safely and easily disposed after use, or that are made from sustainable sources or using sustainable processes. However, whilst using biodegradable materials avoids the risk that plastics presents, the industry for effectively handling and composting these materials is not universally available and may not be cost effective. In addition, biodegradable materials may not meet the durability standards required for certain types of assistance.

2. Promote repurposing of items that are shipped for the operations, for example, using bags to grow plants and using disappearing ink if branding is an issue. Reusing and repurposing can both reduce waste and create real value for beneficiaries of humanitarian assistance. And when identifying and selecting items to procure, choose options with safe but low amounts, and low weight of packaging that protects the items from external damage or contaminants while packaging various components of a set as one unit versus individual units in order to reduce plastic waste.

3. A range of contraceptive types should be available immediately to meet anticipated demand and providers should be trained to remove long-active reversible contraceptives. Messages need to be oriented towards the safe disposal of items such as condoms.

4. Counseling should emphasise confidentiality and privacy, voluntary and informed choice and consent, method effectiveness for medical and non-medical methods, possible side effects, management and follow-up, and guidance on removal if needed.

5. Share information in multiple formats and languages to ensure accessibility.

6. Engage community leaders to disseminate the information.

Lessons Learnt
Lessons from past experiences

In a major Haiti earthquake response, humanitarian responders used cash for work projects to help clear solid waste from drains and water courses, which reduced the potential spread of disease.

Activity Measurement
Environmental indicators/monitoring examples
  • Percentage of people using items that were selected in order to prevent possible environmental damage.
  • Percentage of kit items that are sustainably sourced.
  • Change in the number of people using items/kits that can be reused, recycled or resold
  • Number of positive changes made to procurement processes to minimise environmental impact.
Main Focus
Focus of suggested activities

Prevention of environmental damage

Resource implications (physical assets, time, effort)
  • Field and desktop research to understand the needs and behaviours of people. Costs can vary from the normal items (more/less).
  • Extra time to source sustainable products and determine whether they can be procured locally. Requires coordination with procurement and logistics teams. Can take longer to action changes.
  • Time intensive to promote or support the development of sustainable waste management livelihoods.
  • Quick wins are possible with community education/awareness approaches on waste and pollution management.
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