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

Water supply, Sanitation and Hygiene Promotion (WASH)
Hygiene promotion
Providing access to hygiene items
Selection of hygiene items and their materials

Selection of hygiene items and their materials


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

The sourcing, provision, transport, distribution, use, and selection of hygiene items are all influenced by environmental factors and all-cause environmental impacts that need to be understood and mitigated. Even selection of the type of hygiene items that affected people and how they use them are both affected by local climate and environment.

Environmental factors such as air pollution or poor water quality may influence the use of hygiene items and may even make specific hygiene items necessary. For example, the lack of adequate water for hygiene actions may require the provision of external sources of water or substitutes such as sanitizer. There are environmental factors affecting the way in which hygiene items are provided, distributed, and ultimately disposed of, e.g. high levels of humidity or rainfall may make it necessary to wrap items in impermeable packaging or tarpaulins. There are also different climatic or environmental factors that might increase the use of hygiene items or accelerate the deterioration of stored hygiene items. Environmental hazards may affect the ability to distribute hygiene items, such as landslides due to slope vegetation stripping, or extreme weather events that impede transport or access.

Gender, age, disability and HIV/AIDS implications

The specific needs of women, children, the elderly, disabled, minorities, and people living with chronic or terminal illnesses should be considered in the design and selection of environmentally sustainable hygiene items.


Environmental impact categories

Air pollution
Soil pollution
Water pollution
Loss of biodiversity and ecosystems
Natural Resource depletion
Climate change
Cultural acceptance
Impact on wellbeing / mental health

Summary of Impacts
Summary of potential environmental impacts

Selection of items that people do not want or will not use creates unnecessary waste.

Sourcing materials can create air, water, and soil pollution from the process of resource extraction and from manufacturing processes due to hazardous chemicals on hygiene products such as phosphates including any hazardous by-products and plastics.

Impact detail
Detailed potential environmental impact information

Natural resource extraction for hygiene materials includes the extraction of water, timber, bamboo, metal ores, and fossil fuels. Not many of these are likely to be extracted solely to supply humanitarian hygiene distribution projects. Non-sustainable extraction activities can destroy flora and fauna, cause soil loss, block natural drainage, over compact soil reduce groundwater infiltration, and can cause pollution of water, air, and soil.

Similarly, manufacturing processes cause pollution through the use of water, electricity, packaging, disposal of waste, and chemical processes in the manufacture of soap and other cleaning items. Phosphates in soaps provide strong cleaning performance but are an important plant nutrient. Higher than normal phosphate levels can destroy the health of lakes, streams, or other freshwater bodies, as they allow algae in the water to grow faster than would naturally occur, turning clear lakes and rivers green and cloudy and deoxygenating them. It can also make drinking water more expensive to treat and can spoil the taste or smell of the drinking water.


Summary of environmental activities

Source hygiene products that do not contain or create by-products that are hazardous for the environment and ecosystems, including plastics.

Require suppliers to have and implement sustainable environmental policies.

Detailed guidance for implementing suggested environmental activities

Minimize the environmental impacts of selected hygiene products. For example, use soap and detergents without phosphates (negotiate joint purchases between agencies for better value for money of soap and appropriate detergents).

Contractually require suppliers to have and actively implement sustainable environmental policies that protect natural resources, prevent pollution, reduce waste and ensure biodegradability or return and reprocessing of hygiene items.

Lessons Learnt
Lessons from past experiences

Adapting hygiene kits based on community preferences can have positive environmental impacts. For example, when Myanmar Red Cross consulted communities on preferences for hygiene items, communities stated that they would prefer to receive metal buckets and fabric dishcloths rather than plastic and paper so that they could be reused. The organisation spoke to donors and received approval to replace the plastic buckets and paper towels with more durable items. This resulted in less plastic and paper waste, and more durable items for affected communities.

Activity Measurement
Environmental indicators/monitoring examples

Percentage of hygiene item suppliers with verified actively implemented environmental policies.

Percentage of hygiene products that do not contain or create by-products that are hazardous for the environment and ecosystems

Activity status
Main Focus
Focus of suggested activities

Prevention of environmental damage

Mitigation of environmental damage

Resource implications (physical assets, time, effort)

Time and expertise to negotiate supplier contracts with clauses requiring environmental policies and practice.

Time and expertise to verify materials extraction and production of hygiene items are environmentally sustainable.

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