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.
Procurement of food can save lives. However, interventions that focus on realizing short-term benefits and neglect consideration of the environment can jeopardize long-term food security and livelihoods. This reduces societal resilience and undermines recovery opportunities.
Food production depends on environmental issues such as hydrology and climate. Reduced precipitation, changes in climate, or extreme weather events may impact crop production and cause displacement. For example, dust storms damage or bury seedlings, cause soil loss (especially topsoil), and damage irrigation canals, reducing agricultural productivity, increasing soil erosion, and accelerating land degradation/desertification.
Human activity also affects food productivity and availability. For example, extractive activities such as mining and wood logging may contaminate air, water, or soils, affecting the food chain or ecosystems. Industrial contamination of water and soils will also affect the production and nutritional value of foods. These environmental factors may make it necessary to procure food rations that cannot be produced locally.
Food assistance may also be used to help people avoid the need to adopt negative coping mechanisms such as the sale of productive assets, over-exploitation or destruction of natural resources, or the accumulation of debt.
Women, disabled persons, and indigenous peoples should be specifically targeted by food procurement in order to diminish existing inequalities and promote economic and social inclusion. This also limits the use of environmentally damaging coping strategies.
Loss of biodiversity and ecosystems
Natural Resource depletion
Production of solid and organic waste.
Soil and water pollution from food waste and food rations’ packing.
Air pollution from transportation of food rations.
Possible disease spread from disease vector breeding on organic and solid waste.
Damage to ecosystems, biodiversity, and natural resources from food production.
Food production is a big source of greenhouse gas emissions (both through production and waste) and may contribute to natural resource depletion (e.g. through soil degradation, depending on the product and means of production). Some foodstuffs (such as meat) are more resource-intense and may cause deforestation. Air pollution and additional greenhouse gas emissions are caused when items are transported from far away rather than being produced locally. Long-distance transportation has a higher risk of inappropriate food storage which may increase food waste.
Favour foods with a low carbon footprint and with shorter supply chains. Negotiate contracts with suppliers to minimise packaging and ensure that all packaging can be recycled through locally-available systems.
Prioritize suppliers/producers who engage in environmentally sustainable and ethical practices (e.g. not contributing to significant conversion or degradation of natural or critical habitats)
Whilst ensuring food provided is acceptable to affected populations, look for lower options that have a lower environmental footprint, such as vegetables or white meat.
Complete a fuel assessment to inform food selection. Consider food processing, its impact, and how to mitigate it based on the food selection process.
Procure food locally when it can be provided sustainably, to good quality, appropriate nutritional content, and is acceptable to local people. Support to groups such as small-scale farmers should not be made at the expense of the food insecure)
Potential food procurement criteria for food rations can favour, for example:}Low-impact production methods with reduced carbon inputs and greenhouse gas emissions;}organic production;}agro-ecology and practices that promote biodiversity; and}enhanced animal welfare.
The UNHRD Lab is working on an initiative called “give packaging a second chance,” which seeks to find ways to repurpose items that are shipped in their operations. To date, the initiative includes investigating how to turn PP bags into backpacks and reusing packaging from family tents and kitchen sets to create cradles for children and solar cookers.
Examples from refugee camps in which polywoven bags were repurposed to grow plants.
Percentage of food items procured locally (adhering to sustainability and quality criteria)
Prevention of environmental damage
Mitigation of environmental damage
Costs may vary. Time required to conduct a comprehensive food assessment.