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

Technical assistance –Transitional shelter and core housing
Construction of shelters/settlement- Technical assistance –Transitional shelter and core housing
Procurement, distribution, availability, and quality of shelter construction materials

Procurement, distribution, availability, and quality of shelter construction materials


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

Wood, earth bricks, and other natural resources are often used in shelter and settlements works, and those resources are often depleted or not available close to areas where they are needed. Factors such as soil erosion, deforestation, water depletion diminish these resources. Poorly managed extraction processes can also pollute the air, water, and soil and cause temporary or permanent damage to ecosystems, flora, and fauna.

In addition, poorly managed construction processes can lead to the release of toxic materials, present in the soil or water, into shelters and settlements. Those toxic elements are may be present from previous human polluting activities (pesticides from agriculture, petroleum products, radon, asbestos, lead, chromate copper arsenate, and creosote).

Gender, age, disability and HIV/AIDS implications

Consult people who may be vulnerable or living with any kinds of difference or different needs, regarding how construction materials may affect their quality of life.


Environmental impact categories

Air pollution
Soil pollution
Water pollution
Loss of biodiversity and ecosystems
Natural resource depletion
Soil erosion
Noise pollution
Visual Intrusion
Cultural acceptance
Drought / flood

Summary of Impacts
Summary of potential environmental impacts

1. Unsustainable use of natural resources

2. Materials that are poor quality, lack cultural acceptance, or not suited to local climates are likely to be wasted, causing pollution and further natural resource depletion

3. Loss of biodiversity and ecosystems, deforestation

4. Soil erosion and water depletion due to extraction of natural resources.

5. Air, water, and soil pollution and greenhouse gas emissions due to transformation, production, and transportation of shelter materials

Impact detail
Detailed potential environmental impact information

1a. Extraction of raw materials for construction can consume non-renewable or low-regenerative capacity natural resources. Natural resource extraction includes activities dedicated to the procurement of sand, gravel, rock, oil, natural gas, wood, and other natural materials that are obtained by excavation, drilling, boring, or other methods. Extraction methods usually just deplete the source if done in uncontrolled ways. In addition to that, extraction activities depend on the usage of water, which is also a natural resource affected communities depend on.

2. If construction materials are not of good and accepted quality, or they don’t fit with cultural expectations or local climatic conditions, affected people may be forced to replace them from other sources, which can lead to natural resource depletion due to uncontrolled extraction.

3. Poorly managed natural resource extraction methods can severely harm ecosystems – destroying forests that other flora, fauna, and humans depend on; polluting or over abstracting water, clay, aggregate, and other materials; destroying plants and animals; blocking or removing migration routes and breeding grounds.

4. The nature of sites where natural resources are extracted can be physically changed through poorly managed extraction processes. Cutting trees, clearing vegetation, excavating rock, aggregates and clay can all cause soil loss, ground or surface water loss, upon which other species and people rely.

5. Extraction, processing, production, and transportation of materials all have the potential to produce negative impacts on the environment due to lack of environmental safeguards (operational procedures designed to first identify and then try to avoid, mitigate, and minimize adverse environmental impacts). All of these processes can cause air, water, soil pollution, and release greenhouse gases – including carbon previously stored in the soil, plants, and trees, and emissions from the burning of fossil fuels for transport, processing, and the making of cement.


Summary of environmental activities

1a. Priorities re-use of existing construction materials, crisis waste, or other appropriate waste where possible

1b. Assess whether materials can be sourced locally sustainably. Ensure resources are not over-extracted.

1c. Collaborate with other actors to manage peaks in demand.

2. Checking local cultural acceptance of materials; ensuring appropriate quality and climatic appropriateness.

3. Carefully plan to manage extraction to minimise disruption to fragile ecosystems.

4. Ensure slope stability, appropriate drainage/groundwater infiltration, and prevent the ground from being over compacted.

Detailed guidance for implementing suggested environmental activities

1a. Priority should be given to re-using any existing construction materials or crisis waste wherever this is available. Such waste should be assessed, sorted, processed, and incorporated into shelter design. For example, materials may be suitable to re-use directly e.g. for roofing, rafters, flooring, or wall construction; or may be suitable for reprocessing e.g. as aggregate for foundations or flooring, or as insulation for walls.

1b. Where there are insufficient existing materials for re-use, or their quality is too poor. Preferance should be given to sourcing materials locally, in preference to being imported when they are available in sufficient quantities and at appropriate costs, as long as it can be determined that they can be extracted, processed, transported and used sustainably. Sourcing local materials reduces environmental impacts associated with transportation and distribution. For naturally sourced materials, the provisioning and regeneration capacity of local sources should be considered to avoid over- extraction. Collaborate with other actors to manage peaks in demand for construction materials, to avoid extracting or tempting suppliers to damage environmentally sensitive areas to meet demand. Design structures and infrastructure to minimise resources used in their construction and to incorporate construction and other appropriate waste wherever possible – e.g. in the sub base of roads. Maintain good records, checking bills of quantities against deliveries. Engineering strategies can be employed to optimize structural strength while using fewer raw materials.

2. Materials selection and sourcing should be informed by checking local cultural acceptance, ensuring appropriate quality and ensuring they will provide appropriate resilience and comfort within local climates. Use of plastic sheeting often creates overheating by day and excessive cold at night in some climates. Communities should be consulted to enable indigenous materials and designs to be used where appropriate. Time should be taken to assess the building properties in their local context (for example, if an agency decides to utilize bamboo, it must not only know how best to use the bamboo structurally, but the proper time to cut it; how to recognize whether it has been cured properly; how to treat it for different climatic conditions; and what materials to use with it, etc.)

3. Resource extraction methods should be carefully planned and managed to minimise disruption to fragile ecosystems. Sustainable extraction practices or material sourcing should form part of the procurement selection criteria, with contract clauses for selected suppliers. Prioritize suppliers/producers who engage in environmentally sustainable and ethical practices and can demonstrate that they are not contributing to significant conversion or degradation of natural or critical habitats. If material extraction from an environmentally sensitive area is the only option, plan for remediation actions before, during, and after the works, to minimise damage, use minimum resources with maximum efficiency, and ensure careful restoration of one part of the site prior to commencing works on another.

4. Ensure existing or new slopes are stabilised through a combination of reducing slope pitch, restoring or increasing vegetation cover, or installing retaining gabion walls or drainage pipes/channels. Ensure surface and groundwater storage capacities are not depleted – for example by leaving a minimum amount of clay in the ground; creating permeable surfaces for rainwater infiltration; constructing drains or soak pits and ensuring the ground is not over compacted.

Lessons Learnt
Lessons from past experiences

UNHCR commonly provides shelter materials in Rwanda such as mudbricks, timber, or elephant grass, thus minimising/ managing any local resource extraction and/or deforestation. This resource extraction was observed in Bangladesh, where bamboo was rapidly extracted resulting in the destruction of habitat corridors for elephants and snakes.



On March 7, 2008, Cyclone Jokwe, a Category 3 cyclone with peak winds of 195 km/h (120 mph), made landfall in Nampula Province in north-eastern Mozambique, affecting approximately 200,000 people and causing at least sixteen deaths. The cyclone destroyed or damaged over 10,000 houses.

From an environmental perspective, the most significant building material concern was the use of mangrove wood in the roofing beams for coastal homes. Although cutting mangroves is illegal in Mozambique, the practice is common. According to the mangrove market operator, the entire stock of the market typically lasts about 30 days. However, in the two weeks following Cyclone Jokwe, the entire stock of the mangrove market was sold out every two days, indicating that the post-cyclone housing reconstruction effort increased the rate of mangrove consumption 14 times over nonemergency situations.

Wood collectors sail to the islands of Eata Namacate and Larde in the Primeiras and Segundas
archipelagos. These archipelagos are recognized as unique areas of high biological richness and diversity, and the mangrove habitat provides important nursery areas for juvenile fish and shrimp, which are important livelihoods resources.


Activity Measurement
Environmental indicators/monitoring examples

% of shelter materials extracted/obtained from sustainable sources and causes the minimum damage to the surrounding environment.

Number of actions to mitigate the damage to the environment

Activity Status
Main Focus
Focus of suggested activities

Prevention of environmental damage

Resource implications (physical assets, time, effort)

Field and desktop research to understand the differences in availability of natural resources in every site and carry out appropriate actions that prevent or mitigate damage to the environment

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