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

Infant and Young Child Feeding in Emergencies
Advocacy and awareness
Develop and share consistent and appropriate communication on IYCF in emergencies

Develop and share consistent and appropriate communication on IYCF in emergencies


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

There is a need to support IYCF in all humanitarian settings. Increased risks such as poor sanitation, water shortages or pollution, disease outbreaks, infant formula donations, stress, and trauma mean that support for appropriate feeding is critical for child survival and the protection of infants and young children.

However, despite the evidence that appropriate and timely support of IYCF-E saves lives, it is rarely prioritised or adequately supported. Approximately a fifth of all deaths among children under-5 years in the developing world could be prevented through appropriate IYCF practices.

Donation of breastmilk substitutes (BMS) is common during emergencies and this undermines breastfeeding. IYCF-E must be included as one of the first activities of response and there is an opportunity to integrate IYCF-E with other sectors. Breastmilk is a renewable resource that is environmentally friendly, produced without pollution, and consumed with a minimal ecological footprint. In order to demonstrate the important role of breastfeeding in ensuring infant health and minimal environmental footprint, it must be promoted in emergency response, avoiding the importation of BMS. However, it is also important to acknowledge that some children cannot be breastfed (for various reasons).

The loss of biodiversity across food landscapes and seascapes, its unsustainable use and misuse, can have multiple impacts on nutrition and health, both directly and indirectly, with the potential of more than one risk factor occurring within the same individual, household and population. Clear and appropriate information on the nutritional value of local crops – vegetables and fruit can lead to better management of children’s nutritional needs through the diversification and use of these locally-grown products. It should be noted that if the promotion of locally grown foods is important for children above 6 months, it should not be promoted for Exclusive Breastfeeding (EBF).

Gender, age, disability and HIV/AIDS implications

It is particularly important to reach women and young girls with environmental enhancement messages to ensure long-term behaviour change.

It is important to include GBV risk mitigation here as well. – To reach women and young girls and also encourage GBV risk mitigation (security analysis, focus group discussions, risk mapping, etc) to take place.


Environmental Impact Categories

Air pollution
Soil pollution
Water pollution
Climate change
Natural resource depletion
Cultural acceptance
Impact on wellbeing / mental health
Water depletion

Summary of Impacts
Summary of Potential environmental impacts
  • Water sources and soil can be affected by the accumulation of waste and spills from piled waste items.
  • Accumulation of packaging may result in contamination of water sources and end up in rivers, lakes, and the ocean.
  • Air pollution from transportation of non-local imported feeding resources.
Impact detail
Detailed potential environmental impact information

The quantity and quality of food can affect both human and environmental health. Any over-reliance on one or several types of food can lead to malnutrition (due to a lack of nutrients from food sources not present in the nutrition plan) or ecosystem deterioration (from monoculture production, etc., either locally or at the source of agricultural production). Improper storage, handling, or care of nutritional inputs can lead to negative human health outcomes including food poisoning and disease and contaminant spread.

Procurement, transport, and distribution of nutritional items can have negative effects on the environment if activities are not well planned or 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 unused and may be discarded. Also, when items are used but the resulting waste is not properly managed, waste may pile causing pollution and spreading disease, including potential air pollution from burning. The transport of nutritional items contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. This can be significantly reduced if high-quality nutritional items can be produced locally. Items that are transported long distances have a higher risk of being stored inappropriately which may increase food waste.

Further environmental impacts can come from 1. bottle and water sterilization using firewood, propane, electricity, or other fuel. 2. Nutritional items packaging being burned with other garbage in low-income settings, causing local air pollution. 3. Continued BF may delay the return of menstruation, reduce the use of sanitary items, and also may help with birth spacing.


Summary of environmental activities

1 – In IYCF key messages should be included on environmental sustainability for A) Breastfeeding; B) Complementary feeding (reusable containers and safe storage), C) Nutrition – sensitive food system based on biodiversity.

2 – Consider environmental matters in communication activities such as: Familiarisation with the use of new products or service; Promotion of good practices and avoidance of undesirable behaviours; Community sensitisation and investigating barriers to service uptake; Advocacy to influence policies, practices and behaviours that safeguard and improve the nutrition of communities affected by emergencies.

3 – Develop key messages to move towards more plant-based diets and polyculture farming practices wherever possible.

Detailed guidance for implementing suggested environmental activities

1 – Example message to include: BREASTFEEDING is inclusive, sustainable, equitable and environmentally friendly, life-saving, and economy-driving. Refer to

The main activity will be to support mothers in overcoming breastfeeding difficulties – counseling on how to adopt/include breastfeeding.

2 – In communication activities: A ) ensure the promotion of proper disposal of packing and waste is part of the key messages developed for new resources introduced (new types of food, RUTF, MNPs), food supplements.

B) include key messages on the cultivation of
fresh fruit and vegetables, the consumption of micronutrient-fortified foods, or the purchase of micronutrient-rich foods from local markets.

C) develop key messages for cooking techniques that reduce energy usage and cooking times. However, it is to be noted, animal-based foods are the best source of nutrients for infants.

D) Include environmental considerations into your advocacy messages to governments.

3 – When working in high/middle-income countries/groups contexts, global dietary patterns need to move towards more plant-heavy diets, mainly due to the disproportionate impact of animal agriculture on biodiversity, land use, and the environment. Such a shift, coupled with the reduction of global food waste, would reduce demand and the pressure on the environment and land, benefit the health of populations around the world, and help reduce the risk of pandemics. With farming practices that are more nature-friendly, designed to support biodiversity, promote limiting the use of inputs, and replacing monoculture with polyculture farming practices. Dietary change is necessary to enable land to be returned to nature, and to allow widespread adoption of nature-friendly farming without increasing the pressure to convert additional natural land to agriculture.

Lessons Learnt
Lessons from past experiences

In South Sudan, Humanitarian agencies provided nutritional supplement feeding and found that over time waste was accumulating on land and in watercourses, causing pollution. Agencies responded by setting up feeding centers and removing packaging prior to distribution where possible; providing safe comfortable feeding areas and encouraging their use, followed by encouragement to return all waste packaging prior to leaving the feeding center.

Activity Measurement
Environmental indicators/monitoring examples
  • IEC materials include environmental enhancement messages for IYCF.
  • (IEC materials could potentially link with WASH, for IFE)
Activity Status
Very high
Main Focus
Focus of suggested activities
  • Prevention of environmental damage
  • Mitigation of environmental damage
  • Environmental enhancement
Resource implications (physical assets, time, effort)
  • Time for planning and consulting and getting to know local cultural norms and behaviours and designing appropriate messages that are likely to be well accepted by the community. Intensive consultation is required.
  • This requires securing funding for a mass campaign for suggested activity 3.
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