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.
Site selection always impacts the local environment. The local environment always impacts people living in camps or settlements.
Adjacent areas may be pristine and at risk of harm from people abstracting natural resources or polluting them. Adjacent areas may also be hazard-prone which could make relocated people even more vulnerable than they were previously.
Active participation of women and women’s organisations ensures their active and equal participation in all aspects of early recovery.
All the different sectors of the displaced and host community populations should have representation in settlement planning and management. It should include those from vulnerable groups, those with specific needs, potential residual population, as well as both men and women.
Land/property owners of the site should be directly consulted, as their acceptance of timelines and access to natural resources is often crucial for success.
Loss of biodiversity and ecosystems
Natural Resource depletion
1. Locating shelter sites near to pristine or undeveloped land, or land rich in natural resources, brings the risk that shelter occupants may unsustainably extract natural resources.
2. Extraction of natural resources in pristine or sensitive areas can cause serious harm to flora and fauna, and cause irreversible damage to ecosystems upon which other flora and fauna and humans ultimately depend.
3. Locating shelter sites close to natural or human-made environmental hazards usually exposes people to risks that could harm them
4. Locating settlements close to existing or former industry, mining and quarrying can expose people to hazardous substances that can harm health
5. Potential conflict with adjacent or host communities over natural resources
6. Potential over-abstraction of and depletion of water resources.
1. Pristine or undeveloped land, or land rich in natural resources, usually also contains native species and ecosystems that are often fragile and require protection. If settlements are constructed adjacent to them then assisted people who already have very few resources are likely to feel compelled to extract water, firewood, food, natural medicines, construction material from them.
2. Extraction of natural resources in pristine or sensitive areas can cause serious harm to flora and fauna, and cause irreversible damage to ecosystems upon which other flora and fauna and humans ultimately depend. Such uncontrolled extraction is likely to harm wildlife, disruption to plant and animal food chains; depletion of resources; pollution; even potential local flora or fauna extinctions
3. Natural or human-made environmental hazards will cause harm to people if their houses are located close to them. Flood-vulnerable sites should be avoided. When such sites must be used, then provisions for raising ground level under structures and infrastructure, flood defenses, and drainage are necessary, as well as ensuring that waste produced on-site does not contaminate or pollute nearby water sources.
4. Industrial sites, including mines and quarries, may contain toxic materials which may have polluted the surrounding water and soil. Disturbance of these sites could cause further contamination of adjacent water and land as well as become an environmental health risk for adjacent communities
5. Locating sites close to other existing communities risks creating competition and conflict overuse of local resources including water, firewood, animals for food
6. Construction of settlements and day-to-day household activities use water. Camps and settlements may abstract substantially more water than was previously the case in the location, which can cause irreversible harm
1. Careful site selection to avoid over-abstraction of natural resources
2. Ensure site selection identifies and avoids pristine sites and sites containing fragile ecosystems and endangered species, or as a minimum create a physical separation and provide alternative resources to reduce the likelihood of harm
3. Assess natural or human made environmental hazards and avoid exposing people and shelters to harm. Plan to avoid or mitigate hazards
4. Avoid sites that will expose people to industrial pollution, or clean up the pollution
5. Facilitate understanding between resettled and host communities; seek mutual benefits such as new shared water resources or tree plantations
6. Map and sustainably manage water resources
7. Assess potential sustainable activities for all sectors involved in camp/settlement management
1. Design and implement a careful site selection process and materials procurement process to ensure that natural resources required for camp/settlement construction, operation, maintenance, and household activities can be supplied in plentiful amounts without damage to pristine or sensitive locations. Avoid locating settlements or camps within or close to environmentally pristine or fragile locations if at all possible
2. Ensure the site selection process identifies pristine sites and sites containing fragile ecosystems and endangered species. Do everything possible to select sites that are not within or adjacent to these locations. If there are genuinely no alternatives, every effort should be made to cordon off areas and protect them and educate affected people to ensure the at-risk sites, species, and natural resources are protected. This may mean increasing humanitarian budgets to provide bring in additional natural resources from remote locations, ensuring this will cause less overall environmental damage
3. Ensure the site selection process assesses existing and predicted future natural or human-made environmental hazards that could cause harm to people if their houses are located close to them. Select alternative sites wherever possible. Flood-vulnerable sites should be avoided wherever possible. When such sites must be used, then provisions for raising ground level under structures and infrastructure, flood defenses, and drainage are necessary, as well as ensuring that waste produced on-site does not contaminate or pollute nearby water sources. Design housing and infrastructure to be resilient to hazards such as using non-combustible materials if there is a risk of wildfires; elevated houses to avoid flood, earthquake resilient houses, and constructing gabion walls or planting vegetation to reduce landslide risk.
4. avoid selection of sites that will expose people to industrial pollution, this includes testing groundwater and soil for contaminants. If alternative sites cannot be located then contaminants must be treated and/or removed before people are allowed to live close to them.
5. When locating sites close to other existing communities, meet with and listen to the concerns of host/adjacent communities, including understanding their use of land and natural resources. Seek mutually beneficial solutions such as developing new rainwater catchment facilities or greywater capture and re-use or tree nurseries that can provide resources and livelihoods for both communities. Facilitate talks between both communities to increase understanding and acceptance and reduce conflict
6. Water resources must be mapped and well managed. This includes groundwater monitoring, and surface water quality testing. Alternative sources must be provided if water would otherwise be unsustainably depleted or polluted
7. Assess potential sustainable activities for all sectors involved in camp/settlement management
Sectoral activities that can be undertaken to reduce environmental impacts in settlement management:
Physical planning: Promotion of shelter materials that are either environmentally benign or which have been gathered in a sustainable manner
Water: Protection of water supply areas
Sanitation: Disposal of human excreta; Wastewater and drainage; Proper management of garbage; Dust control; Insect and rodent control
Food: Provision of appropriate foods which require less fuel for their preparation; Promotion of energy-efficient food preparation methods
Domestic Energy: Promotion of efficient energy use; Supply of alternative fuels; Sustainable provision of fuelwood
Forestry: Establishment of protection zones and other means of forest access control around sites; Controlled harvesting; Natural forest management to promote regeneration; Reforestation and afforestation projects
Agriculture: Minimisation of the use of agricultural chemicals and promotion of organic production methods
Livestock: Provision of food and income support
Community services/Education: Promotion of environmental education, awareness, and participation
Income generation: Promotion of environment-related income generation activities
Protected Areas in Refugee Camps:
Rehabilitation of protected areas is extremely costly. Emphasis should therefore be on prevention rather than cure. Where wildlife reserves, national parks, or forest reserves are impacted by refugees, loss of habitat, deforestation, and poaching can have severe ecological and economic implications.
The cost of rehabilitating protected areas, perhaps by transporting wildlife for restocking or establishing protective buffer zones to allow vegetative regeneration, can be enormous. Appropriate site selection, together with a small investment in the early stages of a refugee programme through community extension and improved policing, can do much to avert this type of problem.
When the presence of refugees is damaging to protected areas, emphasis should be placed on demarcation, protection, and enforcement, ideally with community backing. If refugee settlements have been placed close to a protected area, it is important that the boundaries of that area are quickly demarcated. This may require nothing more than cutting a firebreak or placing concrete beacons around the perimeter of the park. Where demarcation lines are less obvious, agreement should be sought on the positioning of boundaries. Support should then be given to the relevant management authorities to enforce regulations on access and extraction of tree and animal products.
While outside agencies may be reluctant to get directly involved in such enforcement, they should be able to provide assistance to over-burdened management institutions that are formally tasked with this role. Possible ways in which to intervene include the provision of transport or communication equipment, and construction of houses or ranger posts.
Where refugee encroachment threatens protected areas, the siting of exotic trees along the boundary can provide a visible sign that the land on which they are planted is not to be settled.
Where refugee settlements are situated close to forest reserves or other protected areas, people will be tempted to trespass, perhaps clearing forest in the process for cultivation or to collect forest products for domestic use or sale. Planting exotic trees along the boundaries of such areas can be an effective means of demarcating the limits of a reserve, and thus deter encroachment. The purpose of any such activity should be clearly explained to local communities and refugees.
If protected areas have been damaged, rehabilitation should begin while refugees are still present. It is sometimes impossible to prevent damage to protected areas. In such cases, it is likely that UNHCR and/or donors will be obliged to support rehabilitation activities. These should begin while refugees are still in the area in order to use the interest of donors and implementing agencies while attempting to limit the extent of further encroachment and degradation. The most effective strategy will normally be to channel funding through appropriately qualified government agencies or NGOs.
Site selection based on assessment of fragility, natural resources, and environmental hazards
Re-assessment demonstrating decreased exposure to environmental and climatic risks and hazards on site. Increased implementation of strategies selected in order to prevent possible environmental damage.
Prevention of environmental damage
Mitigation of environmental damage
Field and desktop research to assess sites in terms of hazards, environmental fragility, natural resources, and ensure the least harmful option is chosen and appropriate actions are planned that that prevent or mitigate damage to the environment