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 – Temporary shelter
Immediate relief
Provision of emergency and temporary shelters

Provision of emergency and temporary shelters


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

Local climate directly affects people where they live. This is exacerbated by climate change, caused by human activities. Weather and temperatures naturally vary significantly between locations and by season. Human-caused climate change is bringing greater extremes in rainfall, temperature, storm intensity, which is contributing to variations in water resources; in the viability of different flora and fauna in different locations, and in the spread of disease. Shelters need to be adapted to consider both historical local weather and temperatures and seasonal variation, and current and projected impacts of 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

Undertake participatory assessments with women, girls, boys, and men to define shelter needs and the most appropriate way to address environmental concerns.

Plan meetings to discuss shelter-related matters with environmental implications with women, men, and people with a disability based on their accessibility concerns, education, daily work, or chores.

Ensure equal participation, supply, distribution, and monitoring of environmentally appropriate shelter materials across all gender, ages, and disabilities.

Identify those at risk of exploitation and develop mechanisms through consultation with them to reduce environmental implications during construction/shelter programmes.

Assist the community to identify women, girls, boys, and men with specific needs by sex and age with shelter construction needs and ensure that these needs are prioritized and met.

Ensure that appropriate location and other sustainable resources necessary for using the shelter do not restrict access for women, children, and those with disabilities.

Those at greatest risk of GBV should be involved in the siting, design, construction, management, and coordination of shelter facilities including Involving women and/or women‘s organisations and other at-risk groups.


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. Emergency / temporary or transitional shelters materials are designed for short terms use and have the potential to cause significant pollution.

2. Construction of new buildings uses natural resources and can degrade the local environment.

3. Importing plastic or prefabricated structures reduces the risk of depleting natural resources for construction, however environmentally safe re-use or disposal can be difficult.

4. Transportation usually releases greenhouse gases. Emissions from poorly maintained or older vehicles cause air pollution.

Impact detail
Detailed potential environmental impact information

1. Emergency / temporary or transitional shelters are meant for short-term use and comprise elements such as plastic sheets, tents, and prefabricated units, that have the potential to contaminate the surrounding environment during delivery and after final use by people because of the short-term nature of the shelters.

2. Construction of new buildings (shelters, settlements) contributes to deforestation, draining and filling of wetlands, disruption of groundwater flows, creation of heat islands, harm to ecosystems, and the degradation of the environment in general. Local natural resources can easily be depleted due to increased demand for materials for the construction of new structures and to replace existing damaged construction materials. This is exacerbated when there is a lack of assessment of construction materials and a lack of planning for potential material re-use.

3. Importing plastic or prefabricated structures reduces the risk of depleting natural resources for construction, however environmentally safe disposal (reuse, recycling, repurposing) of all materials must be planned to avoid adding additional plastic waste to the operation. Air, water, and soil pollution and disease spread are likely to come from the creation of waste, waste piling, waste burning. Elements such as plastic sheets, tents, and prefabricated units all have the potential to contaminate the surrounding environment during delivery, use, and disposal.

4. Transportation activities usually create the release of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels that impact the environment by reducing air quality and creating air and noise pollution from combustion, and contribute to long term climate change, mainly due to carbon dioxide (CO2) and water vapor (H2O) products. Emissions from poorly maintained or older vehicles can also increase respiratory diseases.


Summary of environmental activities

1. Where possible, deliver sustainably produced shelter items. Source locally if the quality is good.

2. Ensure shelters are easy to erect and dismantle and materials can be reused.

3. Source reusable materials and promote user acceptance, affected people) and create a strategy for safe disposal or reuse of those materials.

4. Plan efficient materials transport logistics.

Detailed guidance for implementing suggested environmental activities

1. Procure sustainable construction materials wherever possible. Source locally if quality can be ensured. Determine that the environmental impact of those local items is comparably less than transported/imported items. Also, determine how sustainable are the processes for producing those items, because environmental impacts on water, soil, and air can be higher in local industries due to lack of efficient technologies. The use of locally available or sourced materials reduces the environmental impacts associated with transportation and distribution. However, the provisioning and regeneration capacity of local sources should be considered. Oversight of quality and sourcing of goods and services can be more challenging with local stakeholders, for instance, there may be less control over the quality, environmental impact during production, and solid waste management. Mechanisms to address these challenges, including raising awareness and capacity of local stakeholders to understand and pursue opportunities to engage throughout the supply chain, must be established. Sustainable 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. Also, use materials drawn from renewable resources when possible.

2. Design shelters so they are easy to erect and dismantle and materials can all be reused or repurposed in permanent structures. Design to maximised natural ventilation / cooling, heating / insulation / lighting / solar where possible.

3a. Elements that can be recycled, repurposed, or resold after initial use should be introduced while understanding the behaviour of the people in need and providing them with items they usually use and are comfortable using, in order to avoid waste. Strategic selection of items for distribution can reduce resource consumption and waste generation. Consider the future need of the items post-crisis, and if multi-functional items are an option.

3b. Search for biodegradable options that can be safely and easily disposed of 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. In addition, biodegradable materials may not meet the durability standards required for certain types of assistance.

4a. Train drivers in efficient driving – slow acceleration and braking, fuel use monitoring. Plan lowest emission routes and materials distribution. Use newer lower emissions vehicles, maintain them well including tire pressures.

4b. When identifying and selecting items procure to choose options with safe but low amounts of packaging that protects the items from external contaminants while packaging various components of a set as one unit versus individual units. 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. Finally, 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.

Lessons Learnt
Lessons from past experiences

Including energy expenditure in the Minimum Expenditure Basket (MEB)
In recent years, more and more organisations involved in CVA have used Minimum Expenditure Baskets43 (rather than just food baskets) to establish the size of their cash transfers (including WFP). According to CaLP, essential needs are defined as “the essential goods, utilities, services or resources required on a regular or seasonal basis by households for ensuring long term survival AND minimum living standards, without resorting to negative coping mechanisms or compromising their health, dignity and essential livelihood assets”.44In practice, the majority of MEBs do not include energy needs, but if they do, they are based on the current needs and expenditure of households, and the CVA does not aim to modify these to make them more eco-friendly. It is this point that should be corrected. However, taking energy-related expenditure into account in MEBs is complex due notably to the fluctuation of household needs (summer/winter, for example)45.

In a safety net programme in Pakistan, Nawaz and Iqbal show that CVA increases the use of modern fuels (electricity and gas) but also increases the share of the household expenditure given to fuels (including wood, coal, kerosene, etc.). They conclude that “[…] the expansion of the cash transfer programme [requires] a reasonable investment in the energy sector to ensure that there is an uninterrupted supply of modern fuels”.46In order for CVA to boost the consumption of energy that is relatively clean (gas) or sustainable (hydro, solar or wind power), these need to be available on the market and beneficiaries must not have other priority areas of expenditure (such as debts that need to be honoured). Operationally, this provides the option of removing energy needs from MEBs and meeting them in kind by giving households access to cleaner energy (such as solar lamps, for example). What is more, the inclusion of energy expenditure in an MEB is not enough to limit the potential negative impacts on the environment of households’ energy consumption (boosted by the CVA). Including access to cleaner (but more expensive) energy in the MEB is not always realistic when people have access to a source of energy that is freely available in their surroundings (for example, wood fuel in rural areas)47. This is one of the reasons that energy expenditure is not systematically included in MEBs. It is, therefore, necessary to think of alternatives (in-kind or using vouchers), on the condition that they really exist on the local market and that importing them is not worse for the environment.


Activity Measurement
Environmental indicators/monitoring examples
  • Percentage of people using items that were selected in order to prevent possible environmental damage.
  • Change in the number of people using items that can be reused, recycled or resold
  • Number of positive changes made to procurement processes to minimise environmental impact.
  • Comparative vehicle emissions between providers or projects.
Activity Status
Main Focus
Focus of suggested activities
  • Prevention of environmental damage.
  • Mitigation of environmental damage
Resource implications (physical assets, time, effort)

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 about sustainable products to be procured locally, and products free of hazardous materials.
Requires coordination with procurement and logistics teams. Can take longer to action changes.

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