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
Support for self-recovery/Supporting owner driven construction

Support for self-recovery/Supporting owner driven construction


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

Owner-driven construction methods can lead to reconstruction cost efficiencies, faster reconstruction, and a greater sense of independence, control, and dignity for house owners. However, if not centrally coordinated it can also lead to significant negative environmental impacts.

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.

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, chromated 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
Impact on mental health
Drought / flood

Summary of Impacts
Summary of potential environmental impacts

1. Unsustainable use of natural resources

2. Air, soil, and water contamination due to uncontrolled construction activities and extraction of natural resources

3. Waste from procurement of poor quality or inappropriate materials

4. Air, water, and soil pollution due to inefficient or poor practice transformation, production, and transportation of shelter materials.

Impact detail
Detailed potential environmental impact information

1. Construction materials can unsustainably consume non-renewable or low-regenerative capacity natural resources. Natural resource extraction includes activities dedicated to the procurement of sand, gravel, rock, oil, natural gas, wood, and other natural materials that are obtained by excavation, drilling, boring, or other methods. Extraction methods usually just deplete the source if implemented in uncontrolled ways. In addition, extraction activities depend on the usage of water, which is also a natural resource affected communities depend on.

2. If reconstruction is not centrally managed, air, soil, and water contamination is often exacerbated as people extract or procure their own individual resources, or source or extract them in small groups. Lack of central coordination and control can vastly multiply damage to ecosystems and habitats. When people have the freedom to rebuild their own houses or start new construction, the procurement, construction, and waste management processes can have greater environmental impacts because usually there is no standard practice and individual preference predominates. Also, families might be forced to borrow resources or implement environmentally damaging strategies to meet their construction needs.

3. If construction materials are found to be of poor quality, or they don’t suit the culture or local climate, affected people may be forced to replace them from other sources, which can lead to further natural resource depletion

4. Transformation, production, and transportation of materials has the potential to create negative environmental impacts due to lack of environmental safeguards (operational procedures designed to first identify and then try to avoid, mitigate and minimize adverse environmental impacts)


Summary of environmental activities

1a. Written agreements with community groups to reduce environmental harm

1b. Community awareness-raising on environmental impacts of natural resource extraction

1c. Community mapping of crisis waste and natural resources

1d. Prioritise the use of local materials when this is proven to be sustainable

2a. Community awareness in how poor practice extraction methods pollute the air, soil, and water and affect the health of flora, fauna, and humans

2b. Support communities in communal procurement, sustainable local extraction, and non-polluting construction methods

2c. Plan environmental remediation. Prioritise materials that are recycled or recyclable.

3a. Train community members in materials quality assessment, and in assessing local sustainable alternatives

3b. Consult community members regarding acceptable construction materials and construction methods

3c. Support the community by providing effective insulation, natural ventilation, cooling, and lighting to conserve energy, appropriate to the local climate

4. Train community members in basic supply chain management to reduce environmental impacts

Detailed guidance for implementing suggested environmental activities

1a. Meet with, or establish community groups and make a written agreement with them regarding shelter reconstruction. This should include a process for individual householders to make a public commitment to collaborate, share resources, support each other and minimise harm to surrounding ecosystems

1b. Community awareness in the impacts of unsustainable natural resource extraction on flora, fauna and ultimately on the community and family resilience

1c. Support community groups in mapping and assessing crisis waste and natural resources and agreeing on what resources can be sustainably used for reconstruction, and which will need sustainably sourcing from elsewhere

1d. Local materials should be used in preference to imported materials when they can be sourced sustainably in sufficient quantities and at appropriate costs. Local procurement reduces the environmental impacts associated with the supply chain. Sustainable practices or material sourcing should form part of the procurement selection criteria, with contract clauses for selected suppliers. Support communities in prioritising suppliers/producers who engage in environmentally sustainable and ethical practices and can demonstrate that they are not contributing to significant conversion or degradation of natural or critical habitats

2a. Community awareness in how poor practice extraction methods pollute the air, soil, and water and affect the health of flora, fauna, and humans

2b. Support communities in communal procurement, or joint sustainable local extraction, and sustainable non-polluting construction methods

2c. Plan for environmental remediation before, during, and after material extraction. Plan to use minimum resources with maximum efficiency. Seek to identify and maximise the use of materials that do not create harmful emissions, and ideally, that are recycled, recyclable, sustainable materials; they should also be easy to manufacture and construct, as well as light in weight for transport.

3a. Train identified community members in materials quality assessment, and in assessing the quality of alternative locally available materials, particularly renewable resources such as bamboo. Ensure a good understanding of the building properties in their local context (for example, if an agency decides to utilize bamboo, it must not only know how best to use the bamboo structurally but the proper time to cut it; how to recognize whether it has been cured properly; how to treat it for different climatic conditions; and what materials to use with it, etc.)

3b. Consult community members regarding appropriate and acceptable construction materials, including traditional materials and indigenous designs that may have a lower impact on the environment

3c. Assess the local climate and support the community in understanding existing or adopting new methods of providing effective insulation, natural ventilation, and cooling, and lighting to conserve energy – e.g. processing plastic waste to create insulation in floors, roofs, and walls

4. Train community members in understanding construction material extraction, processing, production, and transportation impacts and how to mitigate them appropriately. Coordinate with other agencies to reduce peaks in material demand. This will reduce the likelihood of illegal and harmful extraction to meet demand.

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

% of self-construction activities that were monitored and people were trained/educated regarding the effects of their activities on the environment.

Activity Status
Main Focus
Focus of suggested activities

Prevention 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

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