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.
Environmental factors such as air pollution or poor water quality may impact health, requiring the provision of health items. For example, the lack of adequate water for hygiene activities may require the provision of external sources of water or substitutes such as sanitizer instead of water and soap. Different climatic or environmental factors may increase the use of health items or accelerate the deterioration of stored essential medical items.
Health-care waste includes general waste that is comparable to domestic waste as well as hazardous infectious waste such as pathological waste, sharps, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, genotoxic waste, radioactive waste, and heavy metals such as from broken mercury thermometers. Poor management of healthcare waste exposes health care workers, waste handlers, and the community to infections, injuries, poisoning, and pollution by toxic elements or compounds such as mercury or dioxins that are released during incineration. If properly segregated, much of health care facilities’ general waste stream can be safely recycled. Additionally, a number of the products used in health services (for example, cleaning fluids, disinfectants, some medical devices, electronic equipment, etc.) contain hazardous chemicals that can cause occupational risks as well as downstream health impacts through pollution and inadequate disposal.
Women and girls are disproportionately affected by the lack of access to basic water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities, due to their needs during periods of increased vulnerability to infection around menstruation and reproduction cycles. Additionally, other groups may have special needs in terms of hygiene practices. For this reason, disaggregate and understand the different groups of people in the community that may have special needs and behaviours when performing hygiene actions. For example, women may be provided with disposable or reusable menstrual pads which will need to be handled after every use. as a consequence, women may need special and additional messages tailored to handle these specific items and the messages need to be created accordingly women’s beliefs. Regarding other groups such as persons with disabilities or HIV/AIDS, create special messages explaining actions that are environmentally sensitive regarding special items they may be using. Regarding sexual health items, messages need to be oriented towards the safe disposal of items such as condoms. Condoms cause problems by clogging sewage drains.
Girls and women in low-resource and emergency contexts without access to adequate menstrual hygiene management facilities and supplies can experience stigma and social exclusion while also foregoing important educational, social, and economic opportunities.
Loss of biodiversity and ecosystems
Natural resource depletion
Hazardous infectious waste such as pathological waste, sharps, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, genotoxic waste, radioactive waste, and heavy metals such as broken mercury thermometers can enter the environment, polluting air, water, and soil, making people sick. Poor management of healthcare waste exposes health care workers, waste handlers, and the community to infections, injuries, poisoning, and pollution by toxic elements or compounds such as mercury or dioxins that are released during incineration. Many products used in health services (for example, cleaning fluids, disinfectants, some medical devices, electronic equipment, etc.) contain hazardous chemicals that can cause occupational risks as well as downstream health impacts through pollution and inadequate disposal.
Delivery of items can have negative effects on the environment if not well planned or the needs and behaviour of individuals and communities are not appropriately assessed. Good medicine management also prohibits the use of unsafe, unapproved, or expired medicines, which helps avoid immediate waste. Additionally, when delivered items do not match with the cultural preferences of affected communities, items may be unused and may accumulate. Also, when items are used but the resulting waste is not properly managed, waste may be piled in places with poor waste management facilities.
Any lack of adoption and use of health items and the associated accumulation of waste can cause health problems because improper disposal and management of health waste can harbour disease vectors that may spread within communities and contaminate the surrounding environment.
Availability of safe essential medicines and medical services include transport, storage, and the cold chain for vaccines as well as for the collection and storage of blood products. Delivery of items can be affected by the environment as hazards can impact the transportation of essential medicines, e.g.: if roads are flooded medicines cannot be transported by vehicle. Transportation activities normally use fossil fuels which release greenhouse gasses and affect local air quality. This can increase respiratory diseases. There is a potential increase in waste from packaging. In some settings that require the use of boats, transportation can also cause water pollution.
New laboratories constructed in Bangladesh for Covid-19 testing implemented new efficient processes to reduce waste and prevent disease spread from health waste.
Humanitarian actors, in responding to the Global Covid-19 response, supported the local manufacture of PPE, sanitisers, and Covid-19 testing kids in most low-income fragile countries. This significantly reduced transport emissions.
Prevention of environmental damage
Field and desktop research to understand the needs and behaviours of people. Costs can vary from the normal items (more/less). Also, extra time to investigate sustainable products to be procured locally, and products free of hazardous materials. Time and research on understanding the existing capacity and availability of items on the field (local items and workforce), if done in coordination with a local actor could require less time. Requires coordination with procurement and logistics teams. Can take longer to action changes.
Additional time to source sustainable products and determine whether they can be procured locally. Requires coordination with procurement and logistics teams. Can take longer to action changes.