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
Long term planning and development

Long term planning and development


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

Environmental impacts accrue over time and across multiple locations. Each may be considered to be too small to address if treated in isolation. Pollution and environmental degradation from a single shelter project may appear limited. Spread across multiple sites they can lead to water, soil, and air pollution, overloading local capacities for waste management, and unsustainable use of natural resources. Construction development in one location often encourages future development, which if unassessed can lead to unmanageable environmental impacts.

Gender, age, disability and HIV/AIDS implications

Ensure the long-term needs of women, the elderly, children, minority groups, disabled people, and people living with chronic or terminal disease are incorporated within camp/settlement/shelter design.


Environmental impact categories

Air pollution
Soil pollution
Water pollution
Climate Change
Loss of biodiversity and ecosystems
Natural resource depletion
Soil erosion
Cultural acceptance
Drought / flood

Summary of Impacts
Summary of potential environmental impacts

1. As populations grow within camps, settlements, towns, and cities, infrastructure and services grow to support them. This places ever-increasing demands on natural resources, and usually leads to greater quantities of waste and pollution.

2. Unchecked, these impacts can have irreversible impacts on biodiversity and ecosystems.

Impact detail
Detailed potential environmental impact information

1. As populations grow within camps, settlements, towns, and cities, infrastructure and services grow to support them. This places ever-increasing demands on natural resources, and usually leads to greater quantities of waste and pollution. Population growth and the growth of supporting infrastructure and services can overburden the local environment. The growth of solid waste, demand for recycling, provision of water supply, requirements for drainage, energy/electricity, sewerage, and increased transport all-cause pollution, deplete natural resources which are multiplied over time if not assessed and planned for in our initial designs. Unconstrained growth without appropriate environmental mitigations will ultimately impact the health of humans, flora, fauna, natural resources, and the resilience of local ecosystems.

2. Long-term impacts can include permanent loss of biodiversity and natural resources and irreversible damage to natural ecosystems, This can ultimately undermine the viability for humans to continue to inhabit specific locations. Longer-term impacts include water resource depletion due to locating camps or settlements in a water-scarce zone or over-abstraction and waste. Deforestation and associated soil loss and species loss can result from lack of provision of sustainable sources of heating or cooking fuel or electricity, forcing people to cut local trees for firewood, taking timber to build or strengthen shelters, or to support livelihoods. Soil erosion may be caused by improper designs, lack of paved roads, vegetation stripping, intensive farming, or lack of drainage channels or leakages from pipes. In addition, protracted displacements or migrant centers can impact host communities and the environment they rely on.


Summary of environmental activities

1. Locate or develop local population growth assessments including local communities and likely migrants/refugees. Assess the likely duration of the crisis and the likelihood of displaced people returning home. Assess projected natural resource use pollution and waste.

2. Use assessments to inform project planning. Source sustainable resources and plan for resource replenishment. Ensure construction materials are re-usable.

3. Consult communities regarding environmental concerns, potential hazards, and natural resources, and regarding camp/settlement/shelter and infrastructure development plans.

4. Consult local authorities regarding environmental sensitivities, natural resources availability, environmental hazards, and tenure rights.

Detailed guidance for implementing suggested environmental activities

1. Population growth assessments should be undertaken for the local area. This could be through consultation of existing local government plans, enhanced with information regarding any new influx of migrants or refugees due to humanitarian crises. Assessments should be made of whether camps/settlements are likely to be required for the short, medium, or longterm should be made. This further enables assessment of projected natural resource consumption, transport, pollution, waste, and required infrastructure and services. These can then be planned for, whether through plans to support displaced people returning home or through planning for sustainable construction and/or for sufficient capacity for projections.

2. Assessments of likely environmental impacts should inform the design of all activities in the project planning phase, considering the possible negative results that the different actions may cause and determining the remediation or mitigation actions for them. This could include construction using sustainable resources; planting trees to replace trees that are cut; designing temporary shelters with materials that can be used as semi-permanent / permanent structures are later constructed; planning for natural resource replenishment such as rainwater harvesting or groundwater infiltration techniques, etc. When planning camps and settlements, consider the full range of impacts on the environment (direct, indirect, those from future users…) and take into account the concept of sustainability. This means, identifying the available natural resources on the different sites, the interdependence of those resources and the presence of and vulnerability of ecosystems, and if there are any host communities that also depend on the resources in those areas. Also, consider what natural hazards are every available zone exposed to and if there are any other plans for development such as drainage zones, channels, or seawalls (see real case example). Risk must not be rebuilt and all site selection should be based upon localised risk mapping integrated to include all risks, including cyclones, floods, and landslides. In addition to this, plan for the future because sites will eventually experience normal growth. As a result, sites should be designed and constructed to allow space for future expansion without a reduction in the availability of environmental resources for site residents and their needs (increased demand for fuel, water, and energy, and increased wastewater and garbage generation).

3. Communities can provide local knowledge of key environmental concerns, potential hazards, and natural resource availability in the area. Effective engagement with existing local communities can also minimize the likelihood of future social conflict and uncooperative behaviour.

4. Consultations with local authorities can provide insight into key concerns regarding environmental sensitivities, natural resources availability, environmental hazards, and tenure rights of the site.

Lessons Learnt
Lessons from past experiences


To find a safe and environmentally sustainable site in Xaafuun, Somalia, following 2004, a multidisciplinary team of urban planners, economic development experts, and an environmental specialist collaborated to formulate the reconstruction plan. Key issues of sustainability included the potential for settlement expansion and construction in close proximity to both fishing and market locations. Protection from the elements was another important consideration since Xaafuun is subject to strong winds and sand from the adjacent sand dune habitat. The team also looked at the suitability of a new site with regard to public infrastructure for water delivery systems, sanitation systems, and roadway access points. The new location called for a carefully considered, integrated settlement layout with appropriate types of shelter, rather than a simple replication of what existed before. A preparatory sketch-plan discussed with all stakeholders allowed for swift land allocation to different agencies for immediate reconstruction activities.

The Xaafuun case illustrates that without compromising humanitarian efforts to save lives, it is vital to introduce a development perspective in the early stages of the post-disaster situation, fully taking advantage of the opportunities that might result from the disaster. The full case study is included as Annex 3 of Module 4, Green Guide to Strategic Site Selection and Development.


Activity Measurement
Environmental indicators/monitoring examples

Percentage of activities in the planning of shelters that considered current and projected future environmental impacts

Activity Status
Main Focus
Focus of suggested activities
  • Prevention of environmental damage
  • Mitigation of environmental damage
  • Environmental enhancement
Resource implications (physical assets, time, effort)

Field and desktop research to understand the possible impacts the planned activities may create.

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