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.
In areas where there are no human interests, natural phenomena do not constitute hazards to people, nor do they result in disasters that directly affect people. However, natural phenomena can affect ecosystems, harming local flora and fauna which humans rely on for the provision of clean water, clean air, natural resources, and food. In some locations humans are directly vulnerable where they are located close to natural environmental hazards including volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, or human-made hazards such as wildfire, industrial pollution, munitions, mines, poorly constructed urban infrastructure, and large dams.
Each of these hazards has the potential to cause harm to people. Such impacts increase where they are proximate to highly populated areas and/or areas of particular environmental/ cultural/ economic value. Hazards can lead to settlements being affected by floods, earthquakes, droughts, pollution, disease, amongst others that may lead to sickness, loss of life, and damage to flora, fauna, infrastructure, and property. If shelters and/or settlement sites are located close to such hazards, people may be forced to relocate.
Recognition of different needs for use of space, utilities, and services by people of different sex, age, health, ethnicity. To maximise the protection of affected persons and to minimise mortality, morbidity, and gender-based violence.
Aligning roads along contours and avoiding the use of steps is helpful for disabled persons.
Loss of biodiversity and ecosystems
Natural resource depletion
Impact on mental health
Drought / flood
If planning activities only focus on shelters and related infrastructure, without considering the environment and people’s needs, environmental damage. These can include:
1. Unsustainable loss of natural resources including water resources, deforestation, soil erosion
2. Pollution of air, soil, and water pollution, and related health impacts to humans, flora, and fauna
3. Damage to ecosystems and species loss.
Camp planning comprises a wide range of activities. The most significant environmental impacts can be summarized as:
1a. water depletion due to locating camps in a water-scarce zone, over-abstraction of water, or poor or lack of control for water distribution
1b. deforestation caused by lack of heating or cooking fuel forces people to obtain firewood from the surrounding environment; deforestation to build or strengthen shelters, or for people to sell for their livelihood
1c. soil erosion is caused by lack of road infrastructure, lack of drainage channels, leakages from pipes, or deforestation exposing the soil to wind erosion or erosion from water run-off.
2a. solid waste pollution from lack of, insufficient, or poorly managed solid waste management and lack of recycling infrastructure – this can often affect air and water quality and attract disease vectors
2b. poor sanitation, or insufficient facilities leading to pitting overflowing, open defecation, air and water pollution, and disease
3. Depletion of natural resources, pollution, and selection of camp/settlement location and layout can all damage ecosystems and cause species loss.
1. Natural resource assessment and plan for sustainable management
2. Pollution assessment and plan more sustainable activities or mitigations
3. Ecosystems and species mapping and plan mitigations or potential benefits
4. Careful site selection and site planning to minimise harm and promote benefits
5. Consult local communities regarding local environmental dependencies and local sustainability practices
6. Consult local authorities regarding environmental sensitivities, natural resources, environmental hazards, and tenure rights.
When planning camps, settlements, and non-camp settings, consider the full range of impacts on the environment (direct, indirect, displaced, and those from future users…) and plan for sustainability. This means:
1. Identifying the available natural resources on the different sites, the interdependence of those resources and the present ecosystems, and if there are any host communities that also depend on the resources in those areas. Natural resource assessment enables effective decisions regarding the potential for sustainable use of local resources versus importing resources, which displaces environmental impacts to other locations. Create and follow simple sustainable resource management plans.
2. A simple risk assessment can be written to identify potential sources and levels of pollution and plan more sustainable activities or mitigations to reduce air, water, soil pollution
3. Mapping of ecosystems and species enables planning to avoid or reduce harm or even develop potential benefits, such as the creation of floodwater storage ponds that can create breeding areas for flora and fauna; or planting of diverse trees and other fauna to reduce potential flooding impact can also provide habitats for other flora and fauna
4. Mulitple sites should always be assessed, and sites selected based on those that will provide the minimum environmental risks to people, plants, and animals, as well as planning benefits such as new local habitats or reintroducing traditional crops, flora, and fauna that mitigate environmental risks and provide other benefits such as crop pollination, flood defense or sources of food or construction materials
5. 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.
6. Consultations with local authorities can provide insight into key concerns regarding environmental sensitivities, natural resources availability, environmental hazards, and tenure rights of the site. Natural and human-made hazards should be mapped. Authorities should be consulted regarding the existence of any other plans for development such as industry, infrastructure, drainage zones, channels, or seawalls (see real case example). Care should be taken to avoid displacing or exacerbating hazards or creating new ones. Future expansion should also be planned for as more people are born into or move into the area. 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 solid waste generation).
CASE STUDY: ACEH, INDONESIA POST-TSUNAMI HOUSING PROJECT
Houses in Aceh Besar District, Sumatra, Indonesia, were built after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, as well as a newly constructed seawall that was built as a coastal barrier to protect residents from future tsunamis and storms surges. Unfortunately, the site plan and design for the housing project overlooked the fact that a significant quantity of freshwater flows from inland areas toward the ocean during periods of heavy rainfall and becomes trapped by the seawall before it is released into the ocean. The recurring floods damaged the newly constructed shelter, water and sanitation systems, and roads, and have affected residents’ health and quality of life. As a short-term fix, a costly drainage system was installed. To prevent these types of problems and added costs in the future, project planners need to ensure that there is coordinated planning among a range of stakeholders beyond the immediate project area and must pay particular attention to the broader environmental context.
Field and desktop assessments and research to understand existing resources, ecosystems, species, risks/hazards, and the possible impacts the planned activities may have on the local environment.