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 –Transitional shelter and core housing
Construction of shelters/settlement- Technical assistance –Transitional shelter and core housing
Reconstruction / rebuilding (repair, retrofit and upgrades)

Reconstruction / rebuilding (repair, retrofit and upgrades)


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

Wood, earth bricks, and other natural resources are often used in shelter and settlements works, and those resources are often depleted or not available close to areas where they are needed. Factors such as soil erosion, deforestation, water depletion diminish these resources. Poorly managed extraction processes can also pollute the air, water, and soil and cause temporary or permanent damage to ecosystems, flora, and fauna.

In addition, poorly managed construction processes can lead to the release of toxic materials, present in the soil or water, into shelters and settlements. Those toxic elements are may be present from previous human polluting activities (pesticides from agriculture, petroleum products, radon, asbestos, lead, chromate copper arsenate, and creosote).

Gender, age, disability and HIV/AIDS implications

Consult people who may be vulnerable or living with any kinds of difference or different needs, regarding how shelter and infrastructure siting, design, construction materials, and methods may affect their quality of life.


Environmental impact categories

Air pollution
Soil pollution
Water pollution
Loss of biodiversity and ecosystems
Natural resource depletion
Soil erosion
Noise pollution
Visual Intrusion
Cultural acceptance
Drought / flood

Summary of Impacts
Summary of potential environmental impacts

1. Unsustainable use of natural resources

2. Environmental harm from poor siting, poor design, and inappropriate construction materials

3. Materials and construction methods that are poor quality, causing waste

4. Materials or shelter designs that lack cultural acceptance or are not suited to local climates are likely to be wasted, causing pollution and further natural resource depletion

5. Loss of biodiversity and ecosystems, deforestation

6. Air pollution, greenhouse gas release, and deforestation from brick kilns

Impact detail
Detailed potential environmental impact information

1. Disaster recovery and rebuilding attempts are normally undertaken in a fraction of the time that it took communities generations to develop. If reconstruction is not well planned and implemented, it can put an enormous strain on natural resources, leaving people more vulnerable to hazards in the long term.

2. The reconstruction of new houses can have significant negative impacts on the environment through either inadequate location and design of houses and settlements and/or the use of unsustainably produced construction materials. This can include exacerbating flooding; damaging ecosystems; exposing people to excess heat or cooling. Houses are sometimes built-in highly disaster-prone or environmentally sensitive areas, or in areas where the water table is very close to the surface and easily polluted.

3. Poor material quality checking and failure to consult communities on culturally acceptable construction materials, methods, and designs, can lead to buildings being inappropriate and unused, which can lead to yet further natural resource depletion as they are modified or duplicated.

4. Reconstruction methods can harm sensitive ecosystems, deplete forests and water, destroy breeding grounds, exacerbate flooding or drought, harming flora and fauna. Reconstruction uses large quantities of stones, gravel, sand and clay. Uncontrolled extraction of sand and gravel from rivers may change river flow patterns and to increase the rivers scouring force, threatening damage to major infrastructure along the rivers and surrounding communities. The case is similar for transitional wooden houses consuming local wood in large quantities that may lead to total deforestation.

5. The excessive use of burnt clay bricks in the reconstruction of houses, together with typical kiln energy-inefficient production techniques, creates a very significant demand for fuelwood. This fuelwood often comes from illegal logging operations, where deforestation can be a significant concern, degrading local ecosystems and increasing community vulnerability to environmental hazards, and increasing local greenhouse gas emissions (carbon from trees).


Summary of environmental activities

1. Maximise crisis waste re-use in reconstruction

2. Coordinate to manage peaks in construction material demands

3. Minimise and recycle construction materials

4. Careful site selection to minimise impacts and vulnerabilities.

5. Plan layout, infrastructure, and individual shelters to reduce risk

6. Design to maximise natural ventilation / cooling / heating / insulation / lighting

7. Material quality checks

8. Consult communities on culturally acceptable materials, methods, and designs

9. Assess sensitive ecosystems and plan reconstruction methods to ensure they are not harmed

10. Seek alternatives to fired clay bricks. Require supply chain improvements such as kiln energy efficiency.

Detailed guidance for implementing suggested environmental activities

1. Assess crisis waste and maximise its re-use in reconstruction, to minimise the amount of new resources required, and reduce pollution from waste disposal

2. Coordinate with other responders to manage peaks in construction material demands. This helps reduce the likelihood of suppliers resorting to harmful extraction practices to meet demand

3. Promote recycling of construction materials and carefully manage resource use to minimise waste

4. Assess multiple potential housing sites and select the one that has the lowest negative impact on local ecosystems and that is resilient to local environmental impacts such as extreme weather, forest fires or landslides

5. Plan housing and infrastructure siting to ensure it is not exposed to unnecessary hazards, resilient to hazards, and not cause unnecessary environmental impacts such as flooding, groundwater depletion, or landslides

6. Assess traditional designs and local climate and ensure the shelter is not subject to excessive heat or cooling. Design shelters to maximise natural ventilation/cooling / heating/insulation / lighting, to reduce natural resource use, and improve comfort appropriate with the local climate

7. Implement material quality checking to avoid procuring materials that cannot be used or that fail

8. Consult communities on culturally acceptable construction materials, methods and designs to ensure they are fit for use. Encourage the use of locally available, sustainable, and familiar technologies, tools, and materials and hire labour locally for maintaining and upgrading shelters, while incorporating environmental concerns into the recovery and reconstruction process, communities and individuals can lower their risk and vulnerability to future disasters

9. Assess sensitive ecosystems and plan reconstruction methods to ensure they are not harmed. Avoid depleting forests, water resources, destroying breeding grounds, exacerbating flooding or drought, or harming flora and fauna. Ensure rivers, deltas, and fragile coastal areas are not harmed through excessive gravel dredging

10. Seek alternative reconstruction materials to fire clay bricks. Aim to re-use existing crisis/construction waste. Consider alternatives such as soil stabilised blocks, locally plentiful rock, bamboo, reconstituted plastic blocks, or if necessary then hollow concrete blocks. Where clay bricks are used, establish procurement agreements that require suppliers to sustainably source and manufacture and ensure you monitor/audit their supply chain and manufacturing processes and cancel agreements where poor practice is found. Support or require kiln energy efficiency improvements. Manage construction-related dust.

Lessons Learnt
Lessons from past experiences

UNHCR commonly provides shelter materials in Rwanda such as mudbricks, timber, or elephant grass, thus minimising/ managing any local resource extraction and/or deforestation. This resource extraction was observed in Bangladesh, where bamboo was rapidly extracted resulting in the destruction of habitat corridors for elephants and snakes.


On March 7, 2008, Cyclone Jokwe, a Category 3 cyclone with peak winds of 195 km/h (120 mph), made landfall in Nampula Province in north-eastern Mozambique, affecting approximately 200,000 people and causing at least sixteen deaths. The cyclone destroyed or damaged over 10,000 houses.

From an environmental perspective, the most significant building material concern was the use of mangrove wood in the roofing beams for coastal homes. Although cutting mangroves is illegal in Mozambique, the practice is common. According to the mangrove market operator, the entire stock of the market typically lasts about 30 days. However, in the two weeks following Cyclone Jokwe, the entire stock of the mangrove market was sold out every two days, indicating that the post-cyclone housing reconstruction effort increased the rate of mangrove consumption 14 times over nonemergency situations.

Wood collectors sail to the islands of Eata Namacate and Larde in the Primeiras and Segundas
archipelagos. These archipelagos are recognized as unique areas of high biological richness and diversity, and the mangrove habitat provides important nursery areas for juvenile fish and shrimp, which are important livelihoods resources.


Activity Measurement
Environmental indicators/monitoring examples

Reconstruction activities are carried out following environmental guidelines

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 differences in availability of natural resources in every site and carry out appropriate actions that prevent or mitigate damage to the environment

Next guidance:

Reduce pressure on land
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