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 dangers 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 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 incorrect 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.
Climate change disproportionally affects the most vulnerable people, especially women and children. Climate-related hazards – particularly floods, storms, and droughts – are becoming more frequent and intense, land and water more scarce and difficult to access, and increases in agricultural productivity even harder to achieve. It has been estimated that, unless considerable efforts are made to improve people’s resilience, the risk of hunger and child malnutrition could increase by up to 20 percent due to climate change by 2050. (Perry et al (2009) Climate Change and Hunger Responding to the Challenge).
Loss of biodiversity and ecosystems
Natural Resource depletion
Understanding the coping mechanisms and strategies the people use to survive, allows for an adequate design of nutrition and food security assistance. This means that when the actions that the people perform are known, strategies can be successfully implemented to avoid damaging effects on the environment. For example, as the first resource for cooking fuel, people may start to cut down trees or clean up forested areas to keep livestock. both actions negatively affect the environment and increase the risk of erosion and possible flooding events in the future.
To integrate the environment into rapid/detailed assessments:
In addition to providing emergency nutrition support, particular focus should be given to addressing the underlying drivers of nutrition, these are often drought, flood, conflict, displacement, and other humanitarian crises compounded by issues such as poor sanitation, poor hygiene practices, lack of clean water, unsustainable use of natural resources. The protection, restoration, and improvement of the natural environment and strengthening of community norms and values should be mainstreamed throughout the program cycle.
Involve a wider range of agencies:
1. Involve national and local environmental actors in needs assessment planning and analysis. Ask for their help in identifying parameters to assess;
2. 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;
3. Seek advice from global sector environment communities of practice, where these exist;
Data sources and identifying risks:
4. Make use of satellite and remote sensing data – check for environmental issues in the area of intervention that might directly or indirectly worsen humanitarian needs (the UNEP/OCHA Joint Environment Unit has a Remote Environmental Assessment and Analysis Cell which can be activated for major emergencies);
5. Use secondary data such as reports on environmental determinants of health, air pollution, deforestation, water quality, waste management, mining, agricultural pests, and similar. Disaggregated data from other sources such as clinic/hospital admissions can tell you a lot about the environment and its relationship to vulnerable groups;
6. Identify potential environmental risks, including those from the natural environment as well as human or industrial activity. Make use of environmental assessment tools (e.g. NEAT+) and risk maps ; (Especially considering areas of risk in urban or semi-urban settlements.)
You should consider the potential environmental impacts for each of the identified activities. Meanwhile integrating environment into WASH assessment from the beginning will avoid multiple assessments (limiting “assessment fatigue” from the affected population)
For contextualization, relevant assessment questions could be:
– Which are the main environmental problems in the country/region/community (water scarcity, other)?
– Are there sensitive/protected areas in the nearby area (watercourses)?
– What are natural resources traditionally used for? Do male and female users have different priorities?
To assess negative impact specific environmental related questions could be:
– Does the project impact directly on the local environment, specifically on previously identified main environmental issues? This could be the overuse of scarce water resources, or the cutting of trees for construction works.
– Does the project impact indirectly on the environment? (For example use of material brought in from other areas, causing unsustainable harvesting of wood in these locations, or the risk of deforestation as a result of increased population?
Taking a comprehensive approach:
7. Consider people’s coping strategies, the effects that these could have on the environment and the reaction that they could generate from host communities or local authorities;
8. Consider the relationship between environment and security, for example in contexts of informal economies, conflict, competition over natural resources (land, air, water, soil, crops – access and rights to these), disaster risk (e.g. erosion, floods, landslides, etc.) and any specific issues which might affect indigenous or ancestral populations and their cultural heritage (e.g. cemeteries);
9. Many environmental issues are gendered, due to men and women’s roles in society, their relationship to natural resources, the spaces available to them, and activities that they adopt during emergencies. Consider a joint approach to mainstreaming environment and gender
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.
Coping mechanism and livelihoods strategies that have positive and negative effects of the environment are identified