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

Planning - Site planning and urban planning
Living space and shelter design
Providing adequate living space

Providing adequate living space


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

People need appropriate living space to accommodate their specific needs. This includes cultural needs and needs according to age, health, gender, livelihoods, and disabilities. Each of these needs and people related behaviours has impacts on the use of natural resources; impacts on local ecosystems; impacts on the amount of waste produced and pollution caused.

Different locations have different climate, which varies with the seasons, and different projected climate change. A lack of adequate consideration with regard to climatic conditions can lead to an unacceptable standard of living with local people feeling forced into environmentally damaging coping strategies such as unsustainable firewood collection for extra heating, over-extraction of water resources due to extreme heat hours during the day inside the shelters or the look for alternative materials for shelter.

Gender, age, disability and HIV/AIDS implications

Ensure that living space is accessible for persons with disabilities and those living with them. Persons with disabilities, particularly those with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities, may need additional space or facilities


Environmental impact categories

Air pollution
Climate Change
Loss of biodiversity and ecosystems
Natural resource depletion
Soil erosion
Drought / flood

Summary of Impacts
Summary of potential environmental impacts

1. The provision of adequate living spaces may have negative impacts on the environment such as deforestation, air contamination, natural resource depletion, and contamination

2. The supply of household items can lead to the creation of unnecessary waste and pollution.

Impact detail
Detailed potential environmental impact information

1. Living space comprises a wide range of elements that are linked to the cultural and social norms of affected people. Factors such as the minimum space per person can influence the generation of environmental impacts such as deforestation driven by the need for more living space made of wood or if the elements delivered for sleeping, preparing and eating food, washing, dressing, storing food, and water are not accepted by people or do not fit their needs, waste can be generated and the need for substitutes may have adverse effects on the environment such as natural resource depletion. Even the procurement of materials has impacts such as air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions if transported for long distances.

2. In addition, the supply of household items can have negative effects on the environment if the activity is not well planned or the needs and behaviour of individuals and communities are not appropriately assessed. When delivered items do not match with the cultural requirements of affected communities, items may be unused and may be disposed of, causing waste, or re-sold on the local market. Also, when items are used but the resulting waste is not properly managed, accumulation of waste can occur in places that have limited recycling capabilities. For example, canned food and water bottles supplied in places with limited processing capacity, waste management, and recycling, may cause waste piling, disease spread, and air pollution from waste burning.


Summary of environmental activities

1a. Thorough assessment of community required shelter living space requirements, based on their culture, context, and their relationship with the environment

1b. Promote sustainable construction material alternatives, waste management, and recycling

2a. Assess community household item requirements. Consider cash and voucher assistance or sustainable sourcing.

2b. Community training in sustainable waste management practices. Support or encourage new recycling livelihoods.

Detailed guidance for implementing suggested environmental activities

1a. Thorough assessment of community-required shelter living space requirements, based on their culture, context, and their relationship with the environment. The range of actions that providing living space requires is extensive, but activities can be grouped for different types of impacts. For example, identifying the elements that the living spaces will contain, and understanding the impacts those elements may create such as the proper use of fuel for cooking and if the fuel provided matches with the culture and usual practice to avoid unsustainable coping strategies. For this reason, a complete understanding of the affected population’s shelter expectations and practices will help in designing strategies that will reduce environmental impacts. Use construction materials that can be repurposed, recycled, or resold after initial use while understanding the behaviour of the people in need and provide them with items they are familiar with or comfortable using, in order to reduce waste. Strategic selection of items can reduce resource consumption and waste generation. Consider the future need of the items post-crisis, and if multi-functional items are an option. Search for biodegradable options that can be safely and easily disposed after use or that are made from sustainable sources or using sustainable processes. However, while biodegradable materials avoid the risk of persistence that plastics present, the industry for effectively handling and composting these materials is not universally available and may not be cost-effective.

1b. Identify any potentially harmful local environmental practices and promote more sustainable alternatives such as planting and use of bamboo instead of timber; composting; sorting and repurposing or recycling waste instead of burning

2a. Assess community requirements and expectations of household items. Provide cash and voucher assistance if products are available in local markets, or source sustainably produced supplies that can be repurposed or recycled where they are not available in local markets. The procurement and preparation of items can often be designed to reduce packaging or to substitute with packaging that is more environmentally friendly or reusable. Also, repurpose items that are shipped for the operations, for example, using bags to grow plants and using disappearing ink if branding is an issue. Reusing and repurposing can both reduce waste and create real value for beneficiaries of humanitarian assistance.

2b. Community training in sustainable waste management practices. Support or encourage the development of new recycling livelihoods. This may require collaboration with development actors or local private companies or community groups.

Lessons Learnt
Lessons from past experiences

Disaster Risk Reduction and Recovery from floods in Colombia:

Activity Measurement
Environmental indicators/monitoring examples

Percentage of shelters that meet agreed technical and performance standards and are culturally and environmentally acceptable and sustainable

Activity Status
Main Focus
Focus of suggested activities
  • Prevention of environmental damage
  • Mitigation of environmental damage
  • Environmental enhancement
Resource implications (physical assets, time, effort)

Field and desktop research to understand the possible environmental impacts that the living space elements may create, and amend the shelter design and selection/sourcing of household items

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