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.
Identifying environmental hazards can save the lives of affected populations and humanitarian workers. Addressing secondary environmental impacts is part of an effective emergency response. Every emergency responder has a role in identifying acute risks.
Populations depend at least in part, for their food security, on fragile ecosystems, whether local or remote. Further assessment is required to determine if local or displaced loss of biodiversity is accelerating as a result of the emergency or humanitarian response. The integration of environmental issues in the livelihood assessments will ensure that environmental harm is reduced or eliminated and environmental benefits are maximized. When assessing environmental issues, understanding the specific context is critical to avoid reverse impact.
Food security is influenced by macro-economic, socio-political and environmental factors. National and international policies, processes or institutions can impact affected people’s access to nutritionally adequate food. The degradation of the local environment and the increasingly variable and extreme weather caused by climate change also affect food security. Over time, responses should not have a negative impact on natural resources and the environment.
Markets and livelihoods assessments, research and survey can inform early decisions about the possibility of using cash, help identify opportunities and actions needed to restore or rehabilitate critical market systems, and track the impact of a crisis and humanitarian interventions on critical markets. It improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the early humanitarian actions taken to ensure people’s survival, protect their food security, and re-establish their livelihoods.
Market assessments help identify whether markets are functioning and show what interventions can be made to restore markets. Where markets fail, people can be forced to resort to unsustainable coping mechanisms. Market assessments are also important tools to identify risks and opportunities to subsidise humanitarian livelihood programmes.
If markets are not operating normally, people may not be able to access or afford food, and sales/purchasing will reduce. This may force people into unsustainable coping mechanisms such as unsustainable use of local environmental resources.
Most pressing is the fact that climate change and environmental degradation are leading to escalating disasters and vulnerability, calling for radical change across all sectors and systems. For the humanitarian sector, mandated with saving lives and reducing suffering, examining and mitigating its own footprint on the environment should be a clear priority.
All assessments should be gender-sensitive taking particular account of the needs of women and girls, and beneficiaries with disabilities, cultural stigma, and marginalization. It is essential to understand the context and local economy to ensure whether an intervention will help to meet people’s needs or whether it will create additional vulnerabilities. In both rapid onset and protracted crises, the situation and markets will change, and so should be continually monitored and programmes adapted accordingly.
During the assessment phase, the following may be considered as tools and mechanisms to ensure protection against GBV and other minorities:
• Represent gender diversity, including age and disability.
• Train staff, partners, and service providers in Psychological First Aid (PFA) and Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (PSEA)
Loss of biodiversity and ecosystems
Natural resource depletion
Impact on mental health
To understand the dynamics of a crisis and the contextual implications for food security, it is essential to gather a broad set of relevant information that will inform the sector-specific assessment and the programmatic response. Inappropriately informed, designed, or implemented surveys and background research related to food security programming can lead to, among other things, substantial waste and pollution, creation of disease vectors, and displaced unsustainable rates of deforestation, land and soil degradation, and loss of biodiversity. Consideration should be given to the human and material resources employed in the data and information gathering phase to avoid further intensifying existing environmental risks and vulnerabilities resulting from the displacement of people, rerouting of water bodies, climate change, and others.
In addition, all contexts have opportunities for green economy sustainable livelihoods to be developed. It is essential that humanitarian actors support such initiatives or environmental degradation and natural resources depletion will continue to grow. These strategies are also important to reduce the risks of disasters involving environmental issues such as dam rupture and industrial accidents that generate contamination and associated health impacts.
Environmental impacts undermine the short- and long-term effectiveness and sustainability of food security programming outcomes and can exacerbate existing or introduce new environmental challenges. This can also lead to a loss of livelihoods, impede future recovery efforts as well as diminish community resilience. Programming activities that do not properly manage (or encourage/facilitate proper management of) waste streams, pollution or environmental sanitation can also lead to public health risks through vector transmission and/or pollution. Accurate, reliable, and up-to-date information is the foundation on which a coordinated and effective humanitarian response, in accordance with livelihood standards and environmental standards. To understand the dynamics of a crisis and the potential environmental impacts, fragilities, and hazards that can undermine livelihoods, it is essential to gather a broad set of relevant information which will inform the sector-specific assessment and the programmatic response. Inappropriately informed, designed, or implemented surveys and background research related to nutrition can lead to, among other things:
Substantial waste and pollution from lack of research/surveys regarding current livelihoods, natural resources, people’s skills, markets, transport, sanitation, water supply, and energy infrastructure; environmental fragilities; natural resource sustainability; cultural preferences; risk of creation of disease vectors if the research fails to understand how the disease is currently transmitted in the local environment; how waste materials are stockpiled; local methods of agriculture or home kitchen gardening, including methods of field clearance (eg slash and burn; mechanical cultivation) and potential for stripping vegetation and degrading soil; drainage routes blocked; over compacting ground and reducing infiltration rates and groundwater recharge; destroying species migration routes; risk of unsustainable depletion of local or remote natural resources without proper research. This includes potential deforestation, loss of water resources; clay; peat; plants, and animals. Potential land and soil degradation, loss of biodiversity, and harm to fragile ecosystems if topography; soil quality; hydrology; biodiversity, and ecosystems are not researched.
Harm to the local environment from humans, vehicles and material resources employed in the data and information gathering phase.
A key concern from overlooking environmental considerations during programming is the increased future vulnerability of the site to environmental hazards, such as land/soil movements or flooding. The provisioning capacity of local ecosystems can also be diminished, leading to future challenges for food, water, and energy provisioning. Programming activities that do not properly manage (or encourage/facilitate proper management of) waste streams, pollution, or environmental sanitation can also lead to public health risks through vector transmission and/or pollution.
Environmental impacts undermine the short- and long-term effectiveness and sustainability of livelihood programming outcomes and can exacerbate existing or introduce new environmental challenges. This can also lead to a loss of livelihoods, impede future recovery efforts as well as diminish community resilience.
Climate change acts as an environmental threat and impacts a multiplier in livelihood programming. Climate change causes increased frequency and severity of natural hazards such as droughts, floods, storms, and extreme temperatures impacting the ability of the communities to access food. Programming needs to acknowledge potential risks, and livelihood interventions should reduce exposure and increase resilience to climate variability and change. The capacity of the local environment to provide key services, such as resource provisioning or natural protection against hazards, should be safeguarded.
Humanitarian investments in the green economy such as supporting businesses in the adoption of more sustainable practices in return for hiring members of affected populations may increase “greenwashing” practices as businesses see it as opportunities to attract funds.
Research existing or pre-crisis food security and sustainability. Research environmental fragilities; cultural production and consumption preferences. Consult communities on norms and values and identify any ways in which they may be negatively impacting the environment such as waste disposal; disease vectors; sanitation; hygiene practices; manufacturing methods.
Link MIRA with Strategic Environmental Assessment, Rapid Environmental Impact Assessment – REA or Flash Environmental Assessment Tool- FEAT by:
1. Including environmental information into secondary data review – to define environmental baseline (identifying initial environmental indicators).
Assess the environmental and Nutrition baseline conditions before the event
Consider potential hazards such as drought, famine, or civil strife
2. Fine-tuning environmental indicators into primary data collection
Identify coping strategies being used and their possible negative or positive environmental impacts.
3. Including environmental observation into direct observations.
4 . Ensuring environmental causes of nutritional issues are identified and discussed with key informants and climate change challenges identified.
Identify and consult all parties involved including upstream and downstream communities adjacent to the target area.
Involve any relevant local actors, local government environment offices, and authorities responsible for nutrition.
Identify local laws, policies, culture, and institutions that may impact the project
Coordinate with humanitarian actors and authorities to make sure that data collected will inform interventions.
5. Environment analysis is part of the assessment report (situation analysis report).
It is important to gather accurate, reliable, and up-to-date information on the environment as it affects all aspects of food security response:
1. Research and surveys can help you explore available food security inputs; where they can be sourced from and any fragilities associated with those sources; research will help you assess required material quantities and quality/performance; research helps you assess resource sustainability; cultural preferences; suitability of materials to local climates and ground conditions. This information will help you design a stronger more sustainable shelter response. Research should include details of the affected population, what risks and threats they encounter, and local uses for land and environmental coping mechanisms in times of stress or crisis.
2. Research can help you understand how food security inputs may be stored and transported; how waste materials are stockpiled; local manufacturing or land management processes; whether drainage routes may be blocked and the impacts of doing so; the likelihood and impact of over compacting ground and reducing infiltration rates and groundwater recharge; the likelihood and impact of destroying migration routes. This information can help you plan sustainably and reduce the likelihood of pollution and creating disease vectors
3. Research can be designed to assess the risk of and prevent or mitigate unsustainable depletion of local or remote natural resources including forests, water resources; clay; peat; plants, and animals. The principle of ‘prevention before cure’ should be applied to every environmental situation in a camp or settlement
4. Research can identify potential for land and soil degradation, loss of biodiversity and harm to fragile ecosystems if topography; soil quality; hydrology; biodiversity, and ecosystems are not well understood and planned to be protected
5. Research can help you understand the potential harm your research activities could cause to the environment from the activities of your researchers, their vehicles, and material resources employed in the data and information gathering.
Guidance on using MIRA with a Strategic Environmental Assessment to inform your research:
MIRA is intended to facilitate a common understanding of overall humanitarian needs and provide decision-makers with adequate, accurate, and reliable information. Integrating SEA considerations into an existing MIRA Framework will likely happen across all the stages of the research. The Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) for example, provides a framework for evaluating the environmental implications of a proposed policy, plan, or programmer and provides means for looking at cumulative effects and enables the managing agency to address these effects at the earliest stage of the decision-making process, alongside economic and social considerations.
The research could be as such:
Step 1) Secondary data review, the revision of publications, and existing reports on nutrition and environmental assessments should enable you to define the environmental baseline for your project (3.1 SEA).
Simultaneously, it should enable you to identify the environmental and climate change-related constraints and opportunities which your activities will undoubtedly cause (SEA 3.2). Based on the information you already have, an analysis of your organization’s capacities (3.4 SEA) should allow for the identification of gaps in knowledge and shortcomings, which can inform Step 2 of MIRA, Primary Data Collection.
Step 2) Primary data review – Upon completing the review of secondary data and identifying key gaps to focus the primary data collection, you can establish quantitative and qualitative indicators for your performance. These indicators should also inform the types of questions, surveys or interviews you conduct in the primary data collection phase. Choosing the most appropriate method of information gathering, whether in-person surveys, virtual surveys, household or community level, Focused Group Discussions (FGDs) will depend on the specifics of your current shelter and settlement response plan.
For the Primary Data Collection phase, the level of detail and questions asked during primary data collection will largely depend on information gaps identified during the secondary data review.
Steps 3 and 4) Data collection can be carried out using the following methodologies
a) Community Observation;
b) Community Key Informants;
c) Focus Group Discussions;
d) Household Key Informant,
e) Infrastructure/Facilities Visits.
By incorporating questions or concerns raised during the Secondary Data Review (MIRA Step 1 and SEA Stage 3), the information collected will influence the development of a shelter and settlement strategy which will structure and phase a sectoral response (Shelter, WASH, Protection, Nutrition, etc) to address the needs of the affected population, in light of the constraints and restrictions of resources and personnel.
Step 5 ) Analysis. Some suggested actions include:
Major findings of the research are:
SEA allows finding completely new solutions
SEA allows avoiding errors
SEA allows avoiding conflicts
# of environmental impact assessments shared and used by other organisations addressing nutritional issues
# of environmental impact assessments conducted addressing livelihood issues
# of community engagement meetings for environmental assessments
Prevention of environmental damage
Mitigation of environmental damage
Specific focus groups during assessment for women, men, and children
Involve national and local environmental actors in needs assessment planning and analysis. Ask for their help in identifying parameters to assess for each context;
Include environmental actors and community organisations with environment-related interests in key informant interviews and organisations involved in natural resource management in community consultations and focus group discussions;
Seek advice from global sector environment communities of practice, where these exist.
Ensure training of local data collectors (on data collection and feedback)
Recruit local researchers team.