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

Agricultural livelihoods
Provisioning livelihoods
Food and cash-for-work agricultural activities

Food and cash-for-work agricultural activities


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

If CVA has indirect and unintentional negative impacts on the environment, programme staff should identify, anticipate and reduce their potential negative environmental effects, as they would in any other type of aid programme.

Food/cash for work (FfW/CfW) programmes can create dependency and can prevent people from engaging in long-term sustainable livelihoods. (FfW/CfW) can be designed to have a positive impact on the environment, addressing environmental hazards, environmental protection issues, and encouraging community environmental behavior change. Where markets and livelihoods are not functioning, food/cash for Work can be used as a mechanism to sustain a target population whilst restoring infrastructure that enables markets and livelihoods to function. This can help communities to avoid resorting to environmentally harmful coping strategies. However, any FfW/CfW initiatives should be designed such that they support people and do not prohibit them from re-establishing their normal or new alternative sustainable livelihoods.

The use of cash as an assistance modality brings both opportunities and new complexities in the interaction between humanitarian relief and environmental impacts. Negative impacts may emerge when markets and local supply chains are unregulated and unsustainable or when the type of goods and services procured inadvertently increase risk. Unrestricted cash and cash from re-selling distributed inputs or production inputs purchased with vouchers may be used to fund unsustainable or illicit environmentally damaging coping mechanisms.

Gender, age, disability and HIV/AIDS implications

Consulting with women (girls) and other at-risk groups such as LGBTIQ, elderly, persons with disabilities, female-headed and child-headed households – on how to ensure they retain control over resources and assets intended for their benefit.

Promote women’s rights and equal opportunities to engage in more gender-transformative cash-based livelihoods by ensuring the provision of childcare facilities and breastfeeding spaces; women’s safety measures; gender sensitization of family members in multiple preferred languages, community, and other economic actors; mentoring, leadership, life and livelihoods skills training for women.


Environmental impact categories

Air pollution
Soil pollution
Water pollution
Climate change
Loss of biodiversity and ecosystems
Natural Resource Depletion
Soil erosion
Increased drought/flood

Summary of Impacts
Summary of potential environmental impacts

Poorly planned Food/Cash for work activities may damage the environment, depleting natural resources, reducing natural drainage, polluting air, water, soil, harming ecosystems and flora and fauna.

Pollution or solid waste management challenges may be caused if food items or tools are provided in excess and unrecyclable/non-biodegradable packaging.

Air pollution from transportation of non-locally available items.

Unsustainable environmental coping strategies where Food/Cash for Work is not sufficient to meet household needs.

Impact detail
Detailed potential environmental impact information

Food and Cash for work are often designed as a means to repair damage to infrastructure caused by humanitarian disasters. However, too often, the environmental impacts of these activities are not considered. The building of roads, bridges, drainage channels, water supplies, etc, can easily damage the environment if they are not properly assessed and designed.

Construction activities can unsustainably deplete natural resources such as timber, stone, gravel, and water; natural drainage channels can be obstructed, damaged or groundwater recharge reduced by over compacting soil. Activities may pollute the air, water, and soil through the disposal of construction, disaster or agricultural waste, or waste burning. Excavating and construction activities can harm ecosystems and flora and fauna.

Pollution or solid waste management challenges may be caused if food items or tools are provided in excess and unrecyclable / non-biodegradable packaging. Air pollution is usually also caused by the transportation of food and non-food items when they are procured remotely. Community members may feel that they are forced into unsustainable environmental coping strategies where Food / Cash for Work is not sufficient to meet household needs.

The environmental impacts related to CVA are often less ‘visible’ or more difficult to identify, compared to those of ‘in-kind’ programmes. The difficulty in tracking and monitoring impacts may explain why practitioners feel that this issue is not within their control, particularly in the case of unrestricted transfers (also called ‘multipurpose transfers’ for which beneficiaries are free to spend the money they receive without any restrictions).

It is easier for an organisation to know about the carbon footprint of a product that is distributed if they have bought it directly from a supplier via their logistics department (purchasing and supply process). For a CVA project, the organisation does not always know how the money is spent by beneficiaries and therefore does not always know about the environmental consequences of their purchases (e.g. foodstuffs produced in an unsustainable way, waste from the packaging of the products bought, sustainability of the products bought, etc.)

Whilst the use of cash, vouchers, and mobile money may reduce the visible environmental impacts associated with procurement, cash-based initiatives are not free of environmental impacts. Beneficiaries may make choices which have environmental impacts as a direct result of receiving cash support. For example, limiting cash spending to a minimum and addressing energy and fuel needs from the environment (deforestation), or buying items with a lot of packaging and disposing of waste inappropriately.


Summary of environmental activities

Identify and reduce Food/Cash for Work environmental impacts.

Require suppliers to reduce environmental impact of packaging.

Source food, tools, and commodities locally were sustainable. Reduce emissions of remote sourcing.

Ensure FfW/CfW is not forcing people into unsustainable environmental coping strategies.

Explore nature-based solutions as F/CfW activities.

Detailed guidance for implementing suggested environmental activities

Food/Cash for Work activities should be assessed to identify potential environmental impacts including depleting natural resources, reducing natural drainage, polluting air, water, soil, harming ecosystems and flora and fauna. Activities should be redesigned to reduce or mitigate these impacts.

Contracts with suppliers should include clauses to reduce packaging where possible and ensure packaging is re-usable, recyclable, returnable or compostable.

Food, tools and commodities should be sourced locally where they can be confirmed as environmentally sustainable and of sufficient quality. If there is no alternative but to source remotely then efficient transport routes and vehicles should be used to minimise air pollution from transportation.

Household needs should be propertly assessed to ensure FfW/CfW activities provide adequate assistance so that affected populations do not feel forced into adopting unsustainable environmental coping strategies to supplement their income. The Minimum Expenditure Basket (MEB) should be used to calculate the size of unrestricted multipurposed transfers.

Humanitarian action can include using nature-based solutions as part of an overall adaptation strategy, such as planting cash crops that also stabilise slopes or provide flood defense. Nature-based solutions are defined by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as “actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural or modified ecosystems, that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits”.

CVA project-related emissions or carbon footprint should be assessed. This can be difficult.

Try to anticipate:
– Behaviour of CVA recipients (consumption, repayment of debts, productive investment, etc.). The use of electronics enables the monitoring of spending. However, it is important to make sure that the technological benefits of this method are not given priority over overreaching the most vulnerable beneficiaries. The latter may not be able to maintain functioning equipment or an internet connection, or they may not be in a region where there is a connection (such as in Mali).

– Define the origins of the products and services that beneficiaries buy on the market: how have they been produced and processed at the different stages of the production chain (use of pesticides, chemicals, plastic, etc.)

Assess energy needs (and the related costs when fuel is not taken directly from the natural environment) within the MEB. This can limit the adoption of environmentally harmful practices such as cutting trees or bushes, particularly in contexts of displacement. In practice, the majority of MEBs do not include energy needs, but if they do, they are based on the current needs and expenditure of households, and the CVA does not aim to modify these to make them more eco-friendly. However, taking energy-related expenditure into account in MEBs is complex due to the fluctuation of household needs (seasonal changes for example).

Lessons Learnt
Lessons from past experiences

Cash and food for work activities have been criticised by some undermining people’s ability to build their own livelihoods, creating dependency, and the work itself causing environmental damage. These negative impacts should be considered in programme design.

Activity Measurement
Environmental indicators/monitoring examples

Number of CfW/FfW activities reviewed for environmental impact and redesigned to ensure impacts are mitigated and/or benefits delivered.

Activity Status
Main Focus
Focus of suggested activities

Prevention of environmental damage

Mitigation of environmental damage

Environmental enhancement

Resource implications (physical assets, time, effort)

Time to assess and design potential CfW/FfW activities and review and amend to ensure they are not harming the environment, and are providing environmental benefits wherever possible.

Next guidance:

Food availability
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