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
Recover livelihoods - Water/land management
Irrigation - water management

Irrigation – water management


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

Agriculture consumes 70% of all freshwater resources available for human use.

Irrigation is a direct source of livelihood for hundreds of millions of the rural poor in developing countries. As farmers face the challenge of accessing an increasingly scarce resource, groundwater levels continue falling each year, causing more rivers to dry up.

Efforts need to support enhanced management and conservation of water resources and preserve water quality. This includes improved capture and utilization of rainfall, such as rainwater harvesting, greywater reuse, and the adoption of water conservation technologies and practices that use less water, and reduce water loss, such as using drip and furrow irrigation to increase water productivity.

Gender, age, disability and HIV/AIDS implications

People in positions of power with ownership over land and water resources usually have control over water resources and rights of access.


Environmental impact categories

Coastal erosion
Loss of biodiversity and ecosystems
Natural Resource Depletion
Saltwater intrusion
Soil pollution
Soil erosion
Water pollution
Water depletion

Summary of Impacts
Summary of potential environmental impacts

Irrigation and water management cause the following environmental impacts:

· Water consumption and water resource depletion (management, usage, and losses)
· Water pollution (source protection)
· Land and soil degradation (waterlogging and salinization)
· Loss of biodiversity (downstream implications)
· Conflict over resources (management).

Impact detail
Detailed potential environmental impact information

Plant biodiversity also plays an instrumental role in the regulation and provision of water, soil, and air quality.

Wetlands serve to store water, provide storm protection, flood mitigation, shoreline stabilization, and erosion control.

Upstream activities such as slash-and-burn land clearance, logging, and infrastructure development may result in soil loss, the release of sediments, which are defined as any particulate matter (e.g., sand, gravel, soil, minerals, plant leaves) that can be transported by water.

Sediment often is the major carrier of organic matter and phosphorus, which will have the pollution effects described above. Sediment can also create turbidity in water, restricting light penetration and preventing important plant growth.

Sediment can cover the natural spawning grounds of a variety of aquatic organisms to such an extent that the organisms cannot reproduce and may die. It can suffocate coral reefs, thus having a negative impact on livelihoods associated with those resources, such as fisheries and tourism. Additionally, sediment can cause an increased rate of the filling in or “shallowing” of natural water bodies, thus having a negative effect on livelihoods taking place in those water bodies, such as fisheries or seaweed farming.


Summary of environmental activities

1. Managing and restoring vegetation in catchments. [Buffer strips along with water bodies (areas of land maintained in permanent vegetation) not only support critical wildlife habitat, but they are also an important means to reduce run-off of nutrients, chemicals, sediments, and pesticides from farming, helping to improve water quality and reduce soil erosion.]

2. The planning of the irrigation system should consider future water availability as well as the needs of other users.

3. Consider the entire Watershed. Land use analysis at a watershed level can provide an overview of multiple issues, complementary as well as conflicting, taking place in a particular location so that adjustments can be made.

Detailed guidance for implementing suggested environmental activities

1. Good catchment vegetation cover especially in the riparian zone, adjacent to the water body, reduces the movement of sediments and nutrients into river networks after heavy rainfall, upon which many communities are highly reliant for both food and nutritional security and for their livelihoods. Poor vegetation cover results in accelerated run-off soil erosion, which directly damages ecosystem biodiversity, mangrove and seagrass habitats, wetlands, and other freshwater ecosystems, threatens the livelihoods of riverine local communities, and makes corals less resilient to bleaching.

2. Sustainable water management addresses water use efficiency and productivity and promotes best practices for water use and conservation, including expansion of rainwater harvesting, water storage techniques, water reuse, and irrigation efficiency

Livelihoods project managers should be aware of rivers, streams, wetlands, and other waterways that are located within their proposed project or have the potential to be affected by project activities.

The design of the livelihoods project should include specific measures to ensure that project activities do not result in soil erosion or deposition of excess dirt, soil, or rocks in waterways. Specific measures may include the following: maintaining vegetation buffer zones along waterways, planting vegetation to restore plant cover, and installing temporary silt fences around construction activities to prevent soil movement into waterways. Project managers should also monitor whether livelihoods activities are leading to unexpected impacts to waterways over the life of the project.

Awareness-raising and capacity-building within local communities can also assist with monitoring and addressing environmental issues, such as sedimentation.

Lessons Learnt
Lessons from past experiences

Oxfam has reported working successfully with farmers in Sierra Leone in introducing rainwater and dew water harvesting and drip irrigation to improve crop yields.

Activity Measurement
Environmental indicators/monitoring examples

Number of greywater re-use sources of irrigation water

Number of rainwater/groundwater catchment facilities developed

Number of drip irrigation projects implemented

Activity Status
Main Focus
Focus of suggested activities

Prevention of environmental damage

Mitigation of environmental damage

Resource implications (physical assets, time, effort)

Time to map water resources and water usage demands and balance them and then design appropriate sustainable water capture/re-use and irrigation systems.

Time and expertise for obtaining local authority/national permits.

Next guidance:

Labour rate determination
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