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

Planning - Site planning and urban planning
Location and settlement planning
Site selection and acquisition

Site selection and acquisition


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

In areas where there are no human interests, natural phenomena do not constitute hazards to people, nor do they result in disasters that directly affect people. However, natural phenomena can affect ecosystems, harming local flora and fauna which humans rely on for the provision of clean water, clean air, natural resources, and food. In some locations humans are directly vulnerable where they are located close to natural environmental hazards including volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, or human-made hazards such as wildfire, industrial pollution, munitions, mines, poorly constructed urban infrastructure, and large dams.

Each of these hazards has the potential to cause harm to people. Such impacts increase where they are proximate to highly populated areas and/or areas of particular environmental/ cultural/ economic value. Hazards can lead to settlements being affected by floods, earthquakes, droughts, pollution, disease, amongst others that may lead to sickness, loss of life, and damage to flora, fauna, infrastructure, and property. If shelters and/or settlement sites are located close to such hazards, people may be forced to relocate.

Gender, age, disability and HIV/AIDS implications

Recognition of gender-based differences in the use of space. To maximise the protection of affected persons and to minimise mortality, morbidity, and gender-based violence.

Aligning roads along contours is helpful for disabled persons.


Environmental impact categories

Air pollution
Soil pollution
Water pollution
Climate Change
Loss of biodiversity and ecosystems
Natural resource depletion
Soil erosion
Noise pollution
Visual Intrusion
Cultural acceptance
Impact on mental health
Glacial bursts
Drought / flood

Summary of Impacts
Summary of potential environmental impacts

1. Hazards may be realised, resulting in disasters that impact shelter/settlement sites, harming buildings, infrastructure, people, flora, and fauna

2. Environmental damage from construction activities such as water depletion, deforestation, soil erosion, disease, loss of human life, loss of flora and fauna could result from the selection of a site vulnerable to environmental hazards.

Impact detail
Detailed potential environmental impact information

1. If houses or shelters are built close to hazards such as unstable slopes, volcanoes, or polluting industry, there is potential for disasters such as floods, drought, fire, earthquake, industrial accidents, that can lead to loss of life and disease amongst people, plants and animals, as well as damage to or destruction of buildings and infrastructure. Unnecessary reconstruction, due to poor initial site selection, will use up valuable natural resources and cause further environmental pollution. If they are reconstructed in the same location they are likely to remain vulnerable to the same hazards (flooding, earthquake, landslide, earthquake, pollution, etc)

2. Construction of new buildings (shelters, settlements) often contributes to deforestation, draining and filling of wetlands, disruption of groundwater flows, creation of heat islands, and the degradation of the environment in general. Improper selection of sites may maximize such negative impacts on land and natural resources, and cause environmental degradation due to insufficient consideration of local environmental resources, resulting in further damage to land, agricultural livelihoods, and safety and security.


Summary of environmental activities

1. Evaluate multiple potential site locations and select a site that is least vulnerable to natural or human-made hazards.

2. Evaluate potential sites to identify those where construction and human habitation will result in the least negative impacts on the environment.

3. Engage with local communities and consult them about site selection

4. Consult local authorities as they are a key stakeholder and may be responsible for future environmental management and service provision.

Detailed guidance for implementing suggested environmental activities

1. When evaluating potential shelter/settlement sites it is important to identify existing hazards that could lead to harm to people, flora, fauna, shelters, and infrastructure. Where possible, alternative sites should be selected that are less vulnerable. Where this is not possible, clearly identify existing hazards through a risk and hazard mapping exercise. Shelter and infrastructure must be designed to be resilient to potential hazards. This could be include, for example, bunding and flood diversion channels or elevation or improved drainage to reduce the impact of floods; earthquake-resistant construction technology; water harvesting to reduce drought risk; land zoning to separate housing from the industry.

2. Consider the full range of likely impacts of construction on the environment (direct, indirect, and those from future users…) and take into account the concept of sustainability. This means, identifying the availability and likely self replenishment of natural resources on the different sites; the interdependence of those resources; ecosystems that are present, and how construction and subsequent settlement activities could harm those ecosystems. Avoid inappropriate site selection such as natural wetlands, forests with high biodiversity (flora as well as fauna), or pristine green spaces.

3. Check whether there are any host communities who depend on the natural resources on each potential site. Check what other value the sites serve to communities, including recreational, cultural, or religious value, and plan to mitigate negative impacts. Communities can provide local knowledge of key environmental concerns, potential hazards, and natural resource availability in the area. Effective engagement with existing local communities can also minimize the likelihood of future social conflict and uncooperative behaviour.

4. Consultations with local authorities can provide insight into key concerns regarding environmental sensitivities, natural resources availability, environmental hazards, and tenure rights of the site. Identify whether there are any other plans for development such as drainage zones, channels, or seawalls (see real case example). In addition to this, plan for any predicted future expansion, ensuring plans minimise negative impacts on the environment, and plan for their likely increased demand for fuel, water, and energy, and increased wastewater and solid waste generation. Wherever possible, it is important to plan to bring environmental benefits, such as improved water quality, new tree planting areas, animal migration routes, and pathways to connect flora and fauna.


Lessons Learnt
Lessons from past experiences


Houses in Aceh Besar District, Sumatra, Indonesia, were built after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, as well as a newly constructed seawall that was built as a coastal barrier to protect residents from future tsunamis and storms surges. Unfortunately, the site plan and design for the housing project overlooked the fact that a significant quantity of freshwater flows from inland areas toward the ocean during periods of heavy rainfall and becomes trapped by the seawall before it is released into the ocean. The recurring floods damaged the newly constructed shelter, water and sanitation systems, and roads, and have affected residents’ health and quality of life. As a short-term fix, a costly drainage system was installed. To prevent these types of problems and added costs in the future, project planners need to ensure that there is coordinated planning among a range of stakeholders beyond the immediate project area and must pay particular attention to the broader environmental context.


Activity Measurement
Environmental indicators/monitoring examples

% of shelters and/or settlement sites that are located in areas with no or minimal known natural or man-made threats, risks and hazards.

Sites for shelters are selected considering the possible impacts on the environment.

# of environmental benefits included within shelter / settlement design

Activity Status
Very high
Main Focus
Focus of suggested activities

Prevention of environmental damage

Resource implications (physical assets, time, effort)

Field and desktop research to identify existing hazards and vulnerabilty and to map natural resources and ecosystems and understand their interdependence and how construction may affect them negatively, positively and may be potentiall vulnerable to hazards.

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