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

Enabling Activities - Nutrition
Assessment and needs analysis - Nutrition
Conducting surveys or research - Nutrition

Nutrition – Conducting surveys or research


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

Identifying environmental hazards can save lives of affected populations and humanitarian workers. Addressing secondary environmental impacts is part of effective emergency response. Every emergency responder has a role in identifying acute risks.

Populations facing malnutrition depend 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 nutritional 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 negative impacts.

Most pressing is the fact that climate change and environmental degradation are leading to escalating disasters and vulnerability, which requires 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.

For children with moderate malnutrition, it is always necessary to find out the causes of malnutrition. If it is due to chronic diarrhoea or other illnesses and/or in-correct feeding and caring practices, the food ratio alone will not be enough to improve their nutritional status. Nutrition assessment is the best way to determine whether or not people’s nutritional needs are effectively being met, once the food is available and easily accessible. Nutrition assessments provide timely, high-quality, and evidence-based information for setting targets, planning, monitoring, and evaluating programmes aiming at eradicating hunger and reducing the burden of malnutrition by addressing root causes, which often have underlying environmental drivers.

Gender, age, disability and HIV/AIDS implications

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 a distribution 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)


Environmental Impact Categories

Air pollution
Soil pollution
Water pollution

Climate Change
Loss of biodiversity and ecosystems
Natural resource depletion
Soil erosion
Noise pollution
Visual Intrusion
Cultural acceptance
Impact on mental health

Summary of Impacts
Summary of Potential environmental impacts

To understand the dynamics of a crisis and the contextual implications for nutrition, 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 programming can lead to, among other things, substantial waste and pollution, creation of disease vectors, local or displaced unsustainable depletion of natural resources; land and soil degradation, loss of biodiversity and harm to fragile ecosystems.

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 other.

Impact detail
Detailed potential environmental impact information
  • Environmental impacts undermine the short- and long-term effectiveness and sustainability of nutrition 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 international nutrition standards and environmental standards. To understand the dynamics of a crisis and the potential environmental impacts, fragilities, and hazards related to nutrition, 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 nutrition can lead to, among other things.
  • Substantial waste and pollution from lack of research/surveys regarding current food preferences, nutrition sources, hygiene practices, sanitation practices, water quality, cooking methods; 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.
  • Climate change is an environmental threat and impacts multipliers in nutrition 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 nutrition 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.
  • Overestimation of nutrition packages units can cause accumulation of packaging or unused items will pile due to expiration. This can cause problems not only for the packaging but the contents that need to be properly disposed of, they cannot be dumped in water sources or the ground because of the nutritional element they usually contain which can be harmful to the surrounding ecosystems.


Summary of environmental activities

Research nutritional status, causes, and available local food and nutritional supplements. Research environmental fragilities; cultural food, nutrition, and cooking method 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; cooking 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.

Detailed guidance for implementing suggested environmental activities

It is important to gather accurate, reliable, and up-to-date information on the environment as it affects all aspects of nutrition response:

1. Research and surveys can help you explore available sources of nutrition; where they can be sourced from and any fragilities associated with those sources; research will help you assess required quantities and quality; research helps you assess resource sustainability; cultural preferences; suitability of food to local climates and ground conditions. This information will help you design stronger more sustainable nutrition activities. Research should include details of the affected population, what risks and threats they encounter, and local environmental coping mechanisms in times of stress or crisis

2. Research can help you understand how nutrition items can best be stored and transported; how waste materials are stockpiled; local methods of waste disposal and potential for pollution; whether drainage routes may block and the impacts of doing so. 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; plants, and animals. The principle of ‘prevention before cure’ should be applied to every environmental situation.

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:
– Involve the host government from an early stage;
– Involve the corresponding ministries of migration, water, housing, and environment as sources of information, mobilization capacity, and promotion of the program and implementing partner;
– liaise with and consider local partnerships with national or local environmental partnerships;
– include environment and climate change specific questions in your surveys, interviews, and direct observation activities;
– Coordinate with donors and sell the SEA as a beneficial step to better manage the programme’s resources and their contribution;
– Ensure that gaps identified through the Secondary Data review address the concerns of the government delegations as part of your response;
– Establish a priority scale for environmental impacts and effects, do not try to cover and solve everything;
– Establish a time-scale for the information gathering and upon direct observation and interviews, address medium and long-term problems and concerns;
– Include environmental aspects in the training of shelter managers, and establish a checklist to look at the impacts during the operation and maintenance.

Lessons Learnt
Lessons from past experiences

The UNEP/OCHA Joint Environment Unit, an implementing partner of the inter-agency project on “Adaptation to Climate Change in Sub-Saharan African Humanitarian Situations”, which aims to strengthen climate change adaptation in target humanitarian hotspots helped broaden needs assessment in Burundi, Chad, and Sudan to address long term environmental sustainability. These countries are home to some of the world’s largest displaced populations, vulnerable communities, highly exposed to climatic risks.

The project supports vulnerable communities, internally displaced people, refugees, and host communities facing climate-related risks.

They broadened the needs assessment to look at energy access, water management, and forestry. As a result, people’s nutritional needs were supported with the following activities:
• 48,500 improved cookstoves adopted.
• 305 schools adopting fuel-efficient cooking practices and technologies.
• 63 solar panels installed in Burundi.
• 4 health clinics and 5 schools enabled to provide improved health, nutrition, and educational services.
• 1,920 hectares of forest planted/ rehabilitated.
• 3,064,000 trees successfully planted.

Activity Measurement
Environmental indicators/monitoring examples
  • # of environmental impact assessments shared and used by other organisations addressing nutritional issues
  • # of community engagement meetings for environment assessments
  • Estimations of need for nutrition packs are accurate and wasted/expired elements are close to zero
Activity Status
Very high
Main Focus
Focus of suggested activities
  • Prevention of environmental damage
  • Mitigation of environmental damage
  • Environmental enhancement
Resource implications (physical assets, time, effort)
  • 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
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