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.
The population depends on fragile ecosystems, whether local or remote. Further assessment is required to determine if local or displaced loss of biodiversity is accelerating.
Integration of environmental issues in WASH 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.
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.
In the assessment of water use in a community, it is important to consult both men and women, seeing that they have different roles in society. Men might have a better knowledge of the use of water for livestock and women often have better knowledge of the amount of water used on a household level.
The combined information will give more accurate information on the total need for water for a community. Equally, assessing the need for wood women often have better information on cooking practices, whilst men might have better knowledge of wood used for construction.
Ensure potentially excluded people are consulted directly and not just through people who say they represent them.
Ensure the WASH needs of women, elderly, disabled people, minority groups, etc are assessed and provided for.
Loss of biodiversity and ecosystems
Natural Resource Depletion
Soil erosion; water, air, and soil pollution; water depletion; unsustainable use of natural resources; biodiversity loss, and ecosystems degradation, including land and soil degradation and creation of disease vectors can all occur due to lack of integration of environmental factors and environmental protection needs into WASH assessment.
Inappropriately informed, designed, or implemented WASH activities can lead to, among other things:
Substantial waste and pollution from materials abstraction, transport, site clearance, construction, operation and maintenance, site decommissioning. Environmental impacts undermine the short- and long-term effectiveness and sustainability of WASH programming outcomes and can exacerbate existing or introduce new environmental challenges. This can also lead to a loss of livelihoods, impede future recovery efforts as well as diminish community resilience.
Creation of disease vectors from waste piling, materials piling, poor solid and organic waste management, and poor sewage management. Programming activities that do not properly manage (or encourage/facilitate proper management of) waste streams, pollution, or environmental sanitation can also lead to public health risks through vector transmission and/or pollution
Displaced unsustainable rates of natural resource depletion, including deforestation if materials sources and construction sites are not assessed properly.
Land and soil degradation, loss of biodiversity, and damage to ecosystems if sites are not properly assessed and selected and fragilities identified and mitigated.
A key concern if environmental considerations are not assessed during the programming phase is the increased future vulnerability of the site to environmental hazards, such as land/soil movements or flooding. The provisioning capacity of local ecosystems can also be diminished, leading to future challenges for food, water, and energy provisioning.
Climate change acts as an environmental threat and impact multiplier. Climate change causes increased frequency and severity of natural hazards such as droughts, floods, storms, and extreme temperatures. Programming needs to acknowledge potential risks, and WASH infrastructure should reduce exposure and increase resilience to climate variability and change. The capacity of the local environment to provide key services, such as resource provisioning or natural protection against hazards, should be safeguarded.
Humanitarian actors operating in multiple locations may not assess or understand the overall impact of their activities on the environment. Care should be taken to assess total waste production, total emissions, total water, timber, and other natural resources used. Impacts of implementing partners should also be accounted for. Humanitarian response related environmental impacts may be displaced to other locations
To integrate environment into rapid/detailed assessments:
Include an assessment of potential waste and pollution from materials abstraction, transport, site clearance, construction, operation and maintenance, and site decommissioning.
Assess disease vectors from waste piling, materials piling, poor solid and organic waste management, and poor sewage management.
Assess unsustainable rates of natural resource depletion, including deforestation.
Assess land and soil degradation, loss of biodiversity, and damage to ecosystems.
Environmental impact assessments and mitigation strategies should accompany all WASH and site planning activities throughout the program cycle. Assess opportunities to mitigate environmental impacts through assessments and proper management.
Assess climate change projections to understand their multiplier impact on WASH programming.
Rapid assessments should include assessment of potential waste and pollution from materials abstraction, transport, site clearance, construction, operation and maintenance, and site decommissioning.
Remote analysis methods can be used to assess environmental factors. Assess disease vectors from waste piling, materials 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 WASH. Environmental impact assessments and mitigation strategies should accompany all WASH and site planning activities throughout the program cycle. Assess WASH activities’ opportunities to mitigate environmental impacts through assessments and proper management. Assess climate change projections to understand their multiplier impact on WASH programming.
Among the options available, the most sustainable materials and construction techniques should be prioritized. Energy supply, as well as solid waste management practices, should be taken into consideration early on in the planning phase to ensure safe, hygienic, reliable, affordable, and environmentally sound systems. The protection, restoration, and improvement of the natural environment should be mainstreamed throughout the program cycle.
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 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 contextualisation, relevant assessment questions could be:
· Which are the main environmental problems in the country/region/community (water scarcity, other)?
· Are there sensitive/protected areas in the nearby area (watercourses)?
· What are natural resources traditionally used for? Do male and female users have different priorities?
To assess negative impact specific environmental related questions could be:
· Does the project impact directly on the local environment, specifically on previously identified main environmental issues? This could be the overuse of scarce water resources or the cutting of trees for construction works.
· Does the project impact indirectly on the environment? (For example use of material brought in from other areas, causing unsustainable harvesting of wood in these locations, or the risk of deforestation as a result of the increased population?
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
Environmental data in strengthening response – the case of Nepal:
On 25 April 2015, Nepal was struck by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake. This was followed by a 7.3 magnitude earthquake on 12 May 2015. These earthquakes resulted in over 7,800 deaths and widespread damage and destruction.
A large-scale international humanitarian response effort was mobilized thereafter. Environmental mainstreaming into the response effort was largely facilitated by an environmental assessment and the subsequent strategic sharing and dissemination of the data findings by environmental actors.
The Nepal Ministry of Science, Technology, and Environment; World Wildlife Fund (WWF); and Hariyo Ban (a consortium of environmental actors) initiated a rapid environmental assessment of earthquake-affected areas. The assessment consisted of a desk review, field observations, focus groups, and stakeholder consultations. The collaboration between different actors facilitated access to a greater range of networks and data sources, considerably benefiting data collection and analysis.
OCHA facilitated the sharing of the preliminary findings by WWF at an inter-cluster coordination meeting. This marked a noticeable increase in environmental awareness amongst clusters. This provided an entry point for WWF and Hairyo Ban members to follow up bilaterally with individual clusters, leading to the development, dissemination, and operationalization of cluster-specific guidance documents for the integration of environmental considerations into response programming. The data from the assessment was shared online and bilaterally with relevant parties, enabling individual actors to adapt their response activities accordingly.
# of environmental impact assessments conducted addressing WASH issues
# of focus groups conducted as part of participatory assessments that integrate WASH and environmental issues
Prevention of environmental damage
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;