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
Promotion of good hygiene practices
Understanding hygiene practices and their determinants

Understanding hygiene practices and their determinants


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

Changes in the environment that people previously or currently live in affects the type of hygiene messages that will be useful for them. For example, if people used to live in a place that had abundant water resources, and the new location is drier, messages should take people’s background into account to teach locally appropriate ways to reduce water consumption and sustainably manage water resources. Additionally, people need to be advised against unmanaged dumping of waste, as contaminants can infiltrate and contaminate surface and/or groundwater.

Gender, age, disability and HIV/AIDS implications

Hygiene promotion messages need to be customised to take the needs of different groups such as women, girls, people with disabilities, and HIV/AIDS into account and need to be customized for them (for example, some groups might be more dependent or more exposed to certain hazards, such as lactating women and women may use disposable menstrual items that should be disposed of properly). This should be done in order to highlight the relationship that their actions have with the environment. For example, women may use disposable menstrual items that require guidance for proper disposal.


Environmental impact categories

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

Summary of Impacts
Summary of potential environmental impacts

Accumulation of waste from unused distributed hygiene items due to a misunderstanding of the perceptions, needs, coping mechanisms, capacities, existing norms, leadership structures , and priorities of affected communities, and lack of effective communication when delivering hygiene promotion messages.

Impact detail
Detailed potential environmental impact information

When the perceptions and needs of people are not properly assessed, hygiene items are often wasted. For example, when there are preferences for specific hygiene items or unknown specific hygiene needs, inappropriate and unnecessary items are distributed that are not used, contributing to unnecessary consumption of resources and waste. This has a negative impact on the environment, often leading to the creation of disease vectors, and to water, air, and soil pollution. This may include the dumping or burning of plastic waste and also items such as unused sanitary towels, which can block pipes and drains and contribute to flooding.

Other items that may be unwanted include abandoned soaps which can end up in rivers and streams and change the quality or pH of the water bodies in the area, affecting the feeding and breeding patterns of aquatic life. If the distributed hygiene items are inappropriate, it is likely that any messaging about the management, return, re-use, repurposing, and disposal of those items will be ineffective. This may lead to increased pollution associated with menstrual hygiene items, toilet paper, or similar.


Summary of environmental activities

Understand how communities use and perceive hygiene items and provide effective communication regarding their delivery, use, recycling/re-use.

Take time to learn about and understand target population hygiene practices related to sanitation and their impact on the environment.

Detailed guidance for implementing suggested environmental activities

Hygiene promotion messages should be based on a good understanding of the affected population’s current hygiene needs and behaviors and of their knowledge, attitudes, and practices related to environmental resources and waste.

Hygiene promotion messages should be developed to address unsustainable and sustainable behaviors in order to protect and sustainably manage available resources for hygiene use. For example, determine the minimum amount of water to use per type of action and strongly suggest using those amounts. In addition, the messages should consider the delivery of culturally acceptable hygiene items to minimise waste from unused goods.

Informational campaigns should be a complementary activity to ensure the WASH infrastructure is properly used and maintained, assisting in reducing potential environmental impacts.

Users should be informed about water availability, sustainability, and appropriate usage, conservation, and storage practices, and campaigns should be monitored to ensure effectiveness.

Systems for regulating water usage reduce the likelihood of irresponsible individual behavior and water wastage. Local community structures can enforce water usage regulations. Alternatively, pricing schemes also influence behavior whilst subsidizing operational and maintenance costs.

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

KAP survey performed with questions on preferred type and use of hygiene items and preferred sanitation practices compared to most feasible/sustainable environmental best practices.

Activity status
Main Focus
Focus of suggested activities

Prevention of environmental damage

Resource implications (physical assets, time, effort)

No additional costs, just additional time to understand hygiene practices and preferences and incorporate environmental sustainability into their sourcing, distribution, and education about how to sustainably use them.

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