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.
Identifying environmental dangers can save the lives of affected populations and humanitarian workers. Addressing secondary environmental impacts is part of an effective emergency response. Every emergency responder has a role in identifying acute risks.
Populations facing food security and livelihood failure due to humanitarian crises typically depend on fragile ecosystems, whether local or remote. Further assessment is required to determine if local or displaced loss of biodiversity is accelerating as a result of the emergency or humanitarian response. The integration of environmental issues in the nutritional assessments will ensure that environmental harm is reduced or eliminated and environmental benefits are maximized. When assessing environmental issues, understanding the specific context is critical to avoid negative impacts.
At the initial assessment stage, it is crucial for food security project planners to understand the range of livelihoods activities that are practiced by the disaster-affected communities and to what extent these livelihood activities are dependent on natural resources. Identifying environmental hazards can save the lives of affected populations and humanitarian workers. Addressing secondary environmental impacts is part of an effective emergency response. Every emergency responder has a role in identifying acute risks.
Integration of environmental issues into food security assessments will ensure that environmental harm is reduced or eliminated and environmental benefits are maximized. When assessing environmental issues, understanding the specific context is critical to avoid negative impacts.
Interventions that focus on realizing short-term benefits and neglect consideration of the environment can jeopardize long-term food security opportunities. This reduces societal resilience and undermines recovery opportunities. Assessments and proper management from the very beginning of a humanitarian crisis permit to minimize and addressing these environmental impacts.
Implementing food security programs sensitive to environmental and climatic conditions supports sustainable interactions with the environment while ensuring current and future food security and access to water and energy. This is particularly important considering the increasing external pressures from climate change and natural hazards.
Most pressing is the fact that climate change and environmental degradation are leading to escalating disasters and vulnerability, calling for radical change across all sectors and systems. For the humanitarian sector, mandated with saving lives and reducing suffering, examining and mitigating its own footprint on the environment should be a clear priority.
Climate change disproportionally affects the most vulnerable people, especially women and children. Climate-related hazards – particularly floods, storms, and droughts – are becoming more frequent and intense, land and water more scarce and difficult to access, and increases in agricultural productivity even harder to achieve. It has been estimated that, unless considerable efforts are made to improve people’s resilience, the risk of hunger and child malnutrition could increase by up to 20% due to climate change by 2050. (Perry et al (2009) Climate Change and Hunger Responding to the Challenge).
Loss of biodiversity and ecosystems
Natural resource depletion
Needs assessments can have some environmental impacts from vehicle emissions and potential damage by vehicles to local drainage, water courses and potential solid waste pollution.
Needs assessments should look out for environmental impacts associated with malnutrition:
If food security-related livelihoods are closely linked to natural resources (e.g., people are fishermen or farmers versus shopkeepers), then it is important to assess the baseline for the natural resources. The baseline is essentially the starting point from which to measure change. For example, if a community reported catching an average of 6.2 tons per year of a certain species of fish between the period 2000 and 2008 and only 4.3 tons of fish in 2009, it can be said that the 2009 catch is lower than the average for the baseline period. When evaluating the baseline for a natural resource, it is useful to be aware of the “shifting baseline syndrome.
Other impacts that can be caused by livelihoods, that should be assessed, including drought or flood; deforestation to supplement failing livelihoods; significant depletion of local wildlife; over-abstraction of water; water and soil pollution; agricultural chemical pollution and effluents from logistic activities
Needs assessments can have some environmental impacts, which should be identified and minimised so they don’t contribute to the underlying drivers of the humanitarian crisis. These can include vehicle emissions of greenhouse gases, potential damage by vehicles to local drainage, watercourses, and potential solid waste pollution.
Needs assessments should look out for environmental impacts typically associated with malnutrition. These include:
Understanding the coping mechanisms and strategies the people use to survive, allows for an adequate design of food security assistance. This means that when the actions that the people perform are known, strategies can be successfully implemented to avoid damaging effects on the environment. For example, as the first resource for fuel, people may start to cut down trees or clean up forested areas to keep livestock. Both actions negatively affect the environment and increase the risk of erosion and possible flooding events in the future.
To integrate the environment into rapid/detailed assessments:
To integrate the environment into rapid/detailed assessments:
Rapid assessments should include assessment of potential waste and pollution, transport, and logistics. Remote analysis methods can be used to assess environmental factors. Assess disease vectors from waste piling, poor solid and organic waste management, and poor sewage management. Programme activities to effectively address these impacts and reduce vector transmission and/or pollution. Environmental screening tools can be used (refer to NEAT + tool and/or Cedric light).
Assess unsustainable rates of natural resource depletion, including deforestation to inform the selection of alternatives. Invite environmental actors to participate in sector assessment. This will raise the identification and understanding of drivers of unsustainable coping strategies as well as identifying potential contextual adaptations. Assess land and soil degradation, loss of biodiversity, and damage to ecosystems to identify and mitigate impacts and fragilities. Pay attention to communities’ perceptions of environmental issues and concerns. Use participatory assessments to understand a community’s needs, including but not limited to food security. Assess livelihood activities’ opportunities to mitigate environmental impacts through assessments and proper management. Assess climate change projections to understand their multiplier impact on Nutrition programming.
In addition to providing emergency food security support, particular focus should be given to recovery, strengthening, and diversification. The potential environmental impacts of these activities should be assessed, they may increase drought or flood, or conflict risk. Displacement and other humanitarian crises may be compounded by issues such as poor sanitation, poor hygiene practices, lack of clean water, unsustainable use of natural resources. The protection, restoration, and improvement of the natural environment and strengthening of community norms and values should be mainstreamed throughout the program cycle.
Including the environment in the remote analysis will help to define the environment core indicators to assess and monitor prior to conducting any assessment. Integrate environmental considerations into Sector indicators or the sources of verification used to monitor sector indicators.
Identify financial, physical, social, human, and natural assets available for livelihoods. Include environment markers into the livelihoods baseline to be monitored throughout the entire programme. Identify the hazard context, the risk factors, besides the vulnerability conditions and existing coping capacities.
Include environmental expertise within the project assessment and design team. For example, avoid no new species introduction as an element of a livelihood project. If a new species must be introduced, conduct research or consult experts in order to determine if the species has the potential to escape the target project area, threaten other species, and cause environmental harm. Beneficiaries should be informed and trained in ways they can minimize threats from nonnative introduced species.
Identify the vulnerability context related to pre-existing conditions, trends, and seasonality. As an example for gender pre-existing conditions, define what are the livelihoods roles of women and men, boys and girls, and how have these changed in the crisis? How do other aspects of diversity affect livelihoods and their impact on the environment? Who has lost what? Are there social or cultural restrictions affecting livelihoods choices that can have a detrimental impact on the environment? What barriers exist to accessing viable environmentally friendly livelihood opportunities?
Involve a wider range of agencies:
1. Involve national and local environmental actors in needs assessment planning and analysis. Ask for their help in identifying parameters to assess;
2. Include environmental actors and community organisations with environment-related interests in key informant interviews and organisations involved in natural resource management in community consultations and focus group discussions;
3. Seek advice from global sector environment communities of practice, where these exist;
Data sources and identifying risks:
4. Make use of satellite and remote sensing data – check for environmental issues in the area of intervention that might directly or indirectly worsen humanitarian needs (the UNEP/OCHA Joint Environment Unit has a Remote Environmental Assessment and Analysis Cell which can be activated for major emergencies);
5. Use secondary data such as reports on environmental determinants of health, air pollution, deforestation, water quality, waste management, mining, agricultural pests, and similar. Disaggregated data from other sources such as clinic/hospital admissions can tell you a lot about the environment and its relationship to vulnerable groups;
6. Identify potential environmental risks, including those from the natural environment as well as human or industrial activity. Make use of environmental assessment tools (e.g. NEAT+) and risk maps ; (Especially considering areas of risk in urban or semi-urban settlements.)
You should consider the potential environmental impacts for each of the identified activities. Meanwhile integrating environment into WASH assessment from the beginning will avoid multiple assessments (limiting “assessment fatigue” from the affected population)
For contextualization, relevant assessment questions could be:
To assess negative impact specific environmental related questions could be:
Taking a comprehensive approach:
7. Consider people’s coping strategies, the effects that these could have on the environment, and the reaction that they could generate from host communities or local authorities;
8. Consider the relationship between environment and security, for example in contexts of informal economies, conflict, competition over natural resources (land, air, water, soil, crops – access and rights to these), disaster risk (e.g. erosion, floods, landslides, etc.) and any specific issues which might affect indigenous or ancestral populations and their cultural heritage (e.g. cemeteries);
9. Many environmental issues are gendered, due to men’s and women’s roles in society, their relationship to natural resources, the spaces available to them, and activities that they adopt during emergencies. Consider a joint approach to mainstreaming environment and gender
The shifting baseline syndrome occurs when each generation of evaluators accepts as a baseline the stock size and species composition that occurred at the beginning of their careers and uses this to evaluate changes. So an evaluator who starts his or her career in 1985 might set the baseline at the 1980s levels, whereas the evaluator who starts a career in the 2000s might set the baseline at the 2000 levels. The problem with this gradual shift of the baseline is that it can lead to the gradual acceptance of the slow disappearance of species that form the basis of natural capital assets.
Strategic Environmental Assessment – Learning from Recent Experience and Challenges – WB-2012 – http://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/en/729811468331017746/pdf/728950ESW0whit0200ENV0SEA0pub0final.pdf
# of environmental impact assessments conducted addressing Food Security issues
# of focus groups conducted as part of participatory assessments that integrate Food Security issues
Mitigation of environmental damage
Specific focus groups during assessment for women, men, and children
Involve national and local environmental actors in needs assessment planning and analysis. Ask for their help in identifying parameters to assess;
Include environmental actors and community organisations with environment-related interests in key informant interviews and organisations involved in natural resource management in community consultations and focus group discussions;
Seek advice from global sector environment communities of practice, where these exist.