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.
Changes in the environment that people live in affects the type of messages that need to be delivered. For example, if people used to live in a place with abundant water (e.g. a tropical forest with abundant freshwater), and they are moved to a new location which is drier, messages should take people’s background into account, such as teaching locally appropriate ways to reduce water consumption. Additionally, people should be sensitized around the negative consequences of waste dumping and burning, as contaminants can infiltrate and contaminate the air, soil and surface, and groundwater.
Environmental determinants of health, such as air pollution and poor water quality, should be considered when promoting good hygiene practices.
Hygiene promotion messages need to be customized to take the needs of different groups such as women, girls, people with disabilities, and HIV/AIDS into account and need to be customized for them (for example, some groups might be more dependent or more exposed to certain hazards, such as lactating women and women may use disposable menstrual items that should be disposed of properly). This should be done in order to highlight the relationship that their actions have with the environment. For example, women may use disposable menstrual items that require guidance for proper disposal.
Impact on wellbeing/mental health
Loss of biodiversity and ecosystems Natural Resource depletion
Poor sanitation practices can lead to solid waste mismanagement, leading to secondary impacts such as water and soil pollution, with ensuing health consequences such as an increase in diarrheal cases.
Negative environmental impacts from water wastage, pollution, and pollution from lack of appropriate or contextualized hygiene promotion messages and a lack of explanation of the relationship between the environment, natural resources, hygiene practices, and people’s health.
Water resource depletion due to water overuse is caused by a lack of knowledge and lack of hygiene promotion guidance and explanation on available water resources and recommended amounts of water to use for different hygiene activities.
Hygiene practices are tied to social and cultural norms. Hygiene messages should be based on an identification of possible environmental degradation and environmental health risks. People should understand how their actions influence environmental health, which in turn is directly related to people’s health. The use of hygiene promotion materials can add to existing general waste management problems that could increase the number of disease vectors in the local community. In addition, WASH-related environmental behavior might also include rational or irrational unsustainable consumption of water, based on local availability and cost. All people use our existing frame of reference and environmental behavior which is influenced by family tradition, available resources, and practices in our place of origin, or experience of a previous period of the greater abundance of natural resources such as safe water.
WASH-related environmental behavior often includes the unsustainable use of water, based on pre-crisis behaviors, and practices that are often brought from previous contexts. Target populations will interpret hygiene messages against their existing frame of reference and environmental behaviors.
When people are unaware of water scarcity and causes of water pollution, and when promotion messages do not include environmentally sustainable actions, the risk of depleting or polluting water resources increases. Water scarcity is likely to contribute to increasing health problems in the communities, whilst affecting nearby ecosystems that depend on water sources to thrive. in addition, the perception of assisted populations regarding humanitarian interventions overusing or depleting water supplies may also contribute to conflict with adjacent or host communities who are not receiving benefits from the response.
Integrate information on environmental impacts, environmental sustainability, and health impacts of poor sanitation and hygiene practices into hygiene promotion activities.
Adapt or create new hygiene promotion messages according to the context to explain possible environmental risks and opportunities.
Include messaging on the sustainable use of water for hygiene and other purposes in hygiene promotion messaging.
Assess WASH-related environmental behaviour at the point of origin, point of use and point of disposal (for example management of different types of waste, waste sorting, re-use and recyling; water storage and consumption; norms and expectations about water availability and water value/scarcity/conservation);
Develop environmental messages and guidance for the target population, together with the resources that they might need in order to follow that guidance and address any barriers to them adopting that guidance. Barriers may be environmental; related to available resources; attitudes about the environment and resource ownership, availability, or value. If people come from a context of resource abundance or from a place where it is not necessary to pay for or limit consumption of water or other resources, they may need further support to adopt more sustainable practices.
Note that people’s knowledge, attitudes, and practices on environmental matters typically vary by age. Children and young people are often more concerned about environmental issues and more open to adopting new environmental practices.
Integrate messages into hygiene promotion that explain the relationship between environment and public health and the negative impacts of poor hygiene practices on the environment and therefore on people’s health.
Whilst working to address hygiene practices affecting health, practitioners should also address hygiene practices affecting the environment. Where you cannot find a more sustainable method of effective hygiene promotion than using printed materials, ensure you do not use toxic inks or plastic coatings and include notes on sustainably disposing of the materials after use.
Menstruating women and people with chronic health conditions (including HIV/AIDS) often need greater volumes of water every day to satisfy their hygiene needs. This should be taken into account when developing public health messages related to the rational use of water and the environmental behaviors that people may have brought from other places or contexts.
Plan Risk Communication and Community Engagement (RCCE) activities and design them to reduce the risk of infection by incorporating appropriate environmental messages.
When delivering messages regarding hygiene practices, the perceptions, needs, manners, and existing norms of affected communities should be taken into account.
The message delivery needs to be effective and highly accepted by people – use formats and content that relate to their existing understanding of the environment.
Integrate messages into hygiene promotion that explain the relationship between environment and public health and the negative impacts of poor hygiene practices on the environment and on public health.
Consult communities when developing messages and look for community environmental champions who can support the design and delivery of the messaging.
Link up with local environmental education programmes regarding rational use of water and local environmental determinants of public health. Try to provide those programmes with support and facilitation to expand their reach and scope as well as replicate their messages in areas that they are unable to access. As a part of the response exit strategy, try to facilitate and hand over to those programmes, with sufficient resources and capacity building to enable them to operate at a greater scale than before the emergency. This would be an environmental enhancement.
Hygiene promotion messages should address sustainability options, including the rational use of resources in order to ensure that future users/affected people will have enough resources. Needs assessment and strategic targeting should be employed to ensure that those affected by the crisis receive suitable and necessary items.
Research appropriate messages with local environmental authorities and local government environmental education programmes.
The humanitarian response could easily strengthen hygiene promotion through including environmental education and strengthening their organization’s environmental policy. There are a lot of opportunities to strengthen or expand the environmental education programmes of the affected country (environmental education is sometimes a municipal, provincial or national approach – this varies by country). This can include addressing environmental behavior which relates to hygiene and public health, rational use of water, and environmental determinants of health.
Adapting hygiene kits based on community preferences can have positive environmental impacts. For example, when Myanmar Red Cross consulted communities on preferences for hygiene items, communities stated that they would prefer to receive metal buckets and fabric dishcloths rather than plastic and paper so that they could be reused. The organization spoke to donors and received approval to replace the plastic buckets and paper towels with more durable items. This resulted in less plastic and paper waste, and more durable items for affected communities.
Percentage of affected population that received environmental messages (outlining how sustainable actions improve environmental and public health) – Referring to public health messages adapted to the environmental behaviours of the population and environmental conditions in the place where the response is being implemented.
% hygiene promotion activities that incorporate environmental messages
Number of environmental champions engaged to promote environmental sanitation messaging.
Consider also the frequency of community consultations to assess the effectiveness of messages and which take into account how people respond to that message in terms of environmental behaviour. This is because the environmental impact is about people responding to public health messages in ways that might damage the environment.
Number of messages on sustainable water use integrated into hygiene promotion messaging.
Number of people receiving messages which address sustainable and rational water use.
Prevention of environmental damage
Mitigation of environmental damage
No additional costs, just additional time to integrate environmental messages and actions into existing messaging / hygiene promotion activities.