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

Planning - Site planning and urban planning
Location and settlement planning
Evaluation of buildings and site conditions

Evaluation of buildings and site conditions


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

In areas where there are no human interests, natural phenomena do not constitute hazards to people, nor do they result in disasters that directly affect people. However, natural phenomena can affect ecosystems, harming local flora and fauna which humans rely on for the provision of clean water, clean air, natural resources, and food. In some locations humans are directly vulnerable where they are located close to natural environmental hazards including volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, or human-made hazards such as wildfire, industrial pollution, munitions, mines, poorly constructed urban infrastructure, and large dams.

Each of these hazards has the potential to cause harm to people. Such impacts increase where they are proximate to highly populated areas and/or areas of particular environmental/ cultural/ economic value. Hazards can lead to settlements being affected by floods, earthquakes, droughts, pollution, disease, amongst others that may lead to sickness, loss of life, and damage to flora, fauna, infrastructure, and property. If shelters and/or settlement sites are located close to such hazards, people may be forced to relocate.

Gender, age, disability and HIV/AIDS implications

The specific environmental vulnerabilities of vulnerable groups should be assessed, such as the ability for disabled people to escape flood or other crisis impacts; impact on women and the elderly of site proximity to markets and transport routes; environmental disease vector potential impact on people who are sick or immunosuppressed.


Environmental impact categories

Air pollution
Soil pollution
Water pollution
Climate Change
Loss of biodiversity and ecosystems
Natural resource depletion
Soil erosion
Noise pollution
Visual Intrusion
Cultural acceptance
Impact on mental health
Glacial bursts
Drought / flood

Summary of Impacts
Summary of potential environmental impacts

1. Hazards may be realised, resulting in disasters that impact shelter/settlement sites, harming buildings, infrastructure, people, flora, and fauna

2. Environmental damage from construction activities such as water depletion, deforestation, soil erosion, disease, loss of human life, loss of flora and fauna could result from the selection of a site vulnerable to environmental hazards.

Impact detail
Detailed potential environmental impact information

1. If houses or shelters are built close to hazards such as unstable slopes, volcanoes, or polluting industry, there is potential for disasters such as floods, drought, fire, earthquake, industrial accidents, that can lead to loss of life and disease amongst people, plants and animals, as well as damage to or destruction of buildings and infrastructure. Unnecessary reconstruction, due to poor initial site selection, will use up valuable natural resources and cause further environmental pollution. If they are reconstructed in the same location they are likely to remain vulnerable to the same hazards (flooding, earthquake, landslide, earthquake, pollution, etc)

2. Construction of new buildings (shelters, settlements) often contributes to deforestation, draining and filling of wetlands, disruption of groundwater flows, creation of heat islands, and the degradation of the environment in general. Improper selection of sites may maximize such negative impacts on land and natural resources, and cause environmental degradation due to insufficient consideration of local environmental resources, resulting in further damage to land, agricultural livelihoods, and safety and security.


Summary of suggested environmental activities

1. When a site has been selected, survey the site to identify potential risks and hazards and plan shelter and infrastructure to reduce their exposure to harm; strengthen them against hazards, and where possible enable diversion of potential harm.

2. Design settlements, buildings, and infrastructure to minimise their negative impact on the site and to bring environmental benefits.

3. Engage with local communities and consult them about traditional practices that help housing and infrastructure be resilient to environmental hazards and that reduce negative environmental impacts and bring environmental benefits.

4. Consult local authorities regarding local building codes and practices and their understanding of environmental impacts and resilience.

Detailed guidance for implementing suggested environmental activities

1. When analyzing the site, undertake a survey to identify potential hazards such as landslides, flooding, drought, subsidence, industrial hazards, or potential hazards remaining from past armed conflict. Also research locally the history of geophysical hazards such as volcanoes, earthquakes, or tsunamis as appropriate. Plan infrastructure, buildings, and landscaping to reduce erosion, strengthen unstable slopes, divert floods, or create areas to store floodwater. Ensure watercourse are protected from potential pollution, including through the provision of appropriate sewerage and solid waste management facilities, and provision for re-use of grey-water for example for gardening.

2. Settlements, buildings, and infrastructure can be designed to minimise their negative impact on a site, such minimising paving to encourage ground infiltration of water; ensuring buildings, roads and walls do not increase flood risk. They can also be intentionally designed to reduce environmental risks such as the use of slopes, channels, drainage to divert potential floods; provision of sanitation, water supply, and sewerage facilities to avoid pollution; migration pathways for flora and fauna. Identify the available natural resources on each site, the interdependence of those resources, and the ecosystems that are present.

3. Explore whether local communities depend on the natural resources on the sites. Assess community knowledge of natural hazards

4. Consult national and local authorities to understand and comply with building codes and practices and to gather their knowledge of local hazards, land use zones, and development plans, including zones/infrastructure such as drainage zones, channels, or seawalls (see real case example). Risks should always be addressed and reduced in any land development or construction. Site selection should be based upon localised risk mapping integrated to include all risks, such as cyclones, floods, and landslides.

Lessons Learnt
Lessons from past experiences

Houses in Aceh Besar District, Sumatra, Indonesia, were built after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, as well as a newly constructed seawall that was built as a coastal barrier to protect residents from future tsunamis and storm surges. Unfortunately, the site plan and design for the housing project overlooked the fact that a significant quantity of freshwater flows from inland areas toward the ocean during periods of heavy rainfall and becomes trapped by the seawall before it is released into the ocean. The recurring floods damaged the newly constructed shelter, water and sanitation systems, and roads, and have affected residents’ health and quality of life. As a short-term fix, a costly drainage system was installed. To prevent these types of problems and added costs in the future, project planners need to ensure that there is coordinated planning among a range of stakeholders beyond the immediate project area and must pay particular attention to the broader environmental context.


Activity Measurement
Environmental indicators/monitoring examples

Percentage of activities in the evaluations that assess their relationship with the environment

Activity Status
Very high
Main Focus
Focus of suggested activities

Prevention of environmental damage

Resource implications (physical assets, time, effort)

Additional time and research to introduce environmental considerations in the evaluations/site surveys

Next guidance:

Evictions and relocation
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