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)
Enabling activities - WASH
Strategic Planning - WASH
WASH projects definition

WASH projects definition


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

Climate change and environmental degradation are driving an escalating number of disasters and vulnerability. This requires radical change across all sectors and systems. For the humanitarian sector, mandated with saving lives and reducing suffering, examining and mitigating its own footprint on the environment should be a clear priority, together with ensuring all of its activities are environmentally sustainable and building communities’ resilience to environmental hazards and disasters.

Integrating environmental sustainability into project planning helps sustainably restore societal functions, services, and the environment they live in. If undertaken with environmental sustainability in mind, recovery and reconstruction can help reduce disaster risk and vulnerability to future hazards and support climate change adaptation. The planning process also provides a good opportunity to address the environmental impacts of humanitarian response operations, which helps to ensure that both communities and the environment can recover in a sustainable way.

Given the strong dependency and interconnectedness of natural resources, the environment, natural hazards, and food security, it is necessary to apply an ecosystem approach and to address the underlying drivers of risk and vulnerability by integrating sustainable environmental and natural resource management practices into DRR efforts that seek to make WASH projects more resilient.

Gender, age, disability and HIV/AIDS implications

Additionally, the stakeholder analysis should explore ways to equitably share the natural resource capital assets, with particular attention paid to the poorest and most disadvantaged groups and to women, to make sure their needs are met. The analysis should also consider that men and women use and/or have access to different resources.

Facilitate community dialogues to improve understanding and acceptance.

Ensure the WASH practices and capabilities of women, elderly, disabled people, minority groups, etc are evaluated and integrated into proposed WASH solutions as relevant.
Conduct an inclusion and access assessment to identify vulnerable groups and associated barriers, following up with mitigation measures


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

Summary of Impacts
Summary of potential environmental impacts

Key concerns from overlooking environmental sustainability whilst defining WASH projects include:

Potentially increased vulnerability to environmental hazards

Diminished provisioning capacity of local ecosystems

Public health risks from pollution from waste

Unsustainable WASH activities, exacerbating existing or creating new environmental impacts

Loss of natural resources and biodiversity impeding recovery and diminishing community resilience

Deforestation, and water and soil degradation.

Impact detail
Detailed potential environmental impact information

Failure to assess environmental sustainability in defining WASH projects can easily lead to a lack of awareness of local environmental hazards and vulnerabilities, and a failure to assess and reduce often easily preventable harmful environmental impacts.

Programming activities that do not properly manage (or encourage/facilitate proper management of) waste streams, pollution, or environmental sanitation can also lead to public health risks through vector transmission and/or pollution. The provisioning capacity of local ecosystems can be diminished, leading to future challenges for food, water, and energy provisioning.

Further impacts include loss of natural resources and biodiversity impeding recovery and diminishing community resilience; deforestation; and water and soil degradation; deforestation, and water and soil degradation effects as a consequence of responses that do not consider environmental measures.

Environmental impacts undermine the short- and long-term effectiveness and sustainability of WASH programming outcomes and can exacerbate existing or introduce new environmental challenges. This can also lead to a loss of livelihoods, impede future recovery efforts as well as diminish community resilience.

In WASH programming, Watershed (geographical area drained by a watercourse.) services and functions may be threatened by deforestation, uncontrolled timber harvesting, changes in farming systems, overgrazing, roads and road construction, pollution, and the invasion of alien plants. They may also be affected by natural disturbances such as wildfires, windstorms, and disease.

The deterioration of watershed functions has significant negative impacts, potentially leading to erosion and the depletion of soil productivity; the sedimentation of watercourses, reservoirs, and coasts; increased runoff and flash flooding; reduced infiltration of surface/rainwater to groundwater; reduced water quality; and the loss of aquatic habitat and biodiversity.

Forests and trees play crucial roles in hydrological processes in watersheds. Forested mountain and upland watersheds supply an estimated 70 percent of the world’s accessible freshwater resources for domestic, agricultural, industrial, and ecological needs.


Summary of environmental activities

Ensure environmental sustainability is addressed robustly in all WASH programming, including vulnerability to environmental hazards, such as land/soil movements or flooding.

Assess and protect the provisioning capacity of local ecosystems/

Ensure programming activities effectively manage waste streams and other potential pollution. Assess the potential environmental impacts and vulnerabilities of WASH and infrastructure such as contributing to or resilience against flooding, drought, landslides, heat waves, extreme storms, extreme rainfall. Plan WASH activities to contribute to strengthening community resilience. Consider the protection of biodiversity and providing new alternative livelihoods.

Deforestation, and water and soil degradation effects as a consequence of responses that do not consider environmental measures.

Ensure WASH infrastructure energy needs, and funding for inspection and maintenance.

Develop environmental indicators or include environmental elements in the humanitarian sector or project indicators. Engage local (and/or regional) environmental experts (building partnerships), for example from local authorities or universities.

Screen planned activities for their environmental impacts and risks – environmental and social safeguards. Develop plans to prevent and mitigate environmental risks identified.

Aim to generate environmental benefits from your intervention. This is an opportunity to build resilience. In protracted crises, making use of local capacities, increase the accountability of the response and root it in the local context.

Mainstream environment through each technical subsector. Inclusion of environmental safeguards into institutional forms for project proposals (e.g. concerning project description, reporting requirements, etc.)

Detailed guidance for implementing suggested environmental activities

Environmentally sustainable project definition will include identifying and mitigating environmental impacts, vulnerabilities, and hazards and seeking opportunities to enhance environmental benefits of the project. The design phase is where WASH planners can play a critical role in addressing the potential environmental implications of response activities. The project design should reflect the information gathered during the assessment phase in terms of the number of resources that will be used to implement and maintain the WASH activity. Formulate an exit strategy as part of project design.

1. MITIGATE project impacts by modifying the project design, or compensating for negative impacts.

· How can the direct and indirect impacts be reduced/ avoided? Understand the climatic conditions of the project area to foster adapted practices.
· Have you reviewed best practices, case studies, etc. from other organisations doing similar types of activities?
· Have you consulted with the local community/government to identify traditional and environmentally responsible solutions?
· Use secondary data such as reports on environmental determinants of health, air pollution, deforestation, water quality, waste management, mining, agricultural pests, and similar
· Disaggregated data from other sources such as clinic/hospital admissions can tell you a lot about the environment and its relationship to vulnerable groups.

2. ENHANCE environmental benefits from your intervention. This is an opportunity to build resilience (e.g. through changes to livelihoods, use of new technologies and environmental management approaches which can contribute to peacebuilding and integration between affected populations and host communities, improved food security, risk reduction, and increased environmental stewardship through training and capacity building).

· After impact assessment and mitigation, what other enhancement measures can be added to the project?
· Can enhancement activities be combined with other sectors?
· Take an ecosystem perspective to ensure the integrated management of land, water, and other key resources that promote conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way.
· Plan for reducing the environmental impact of humanitarian activities and building sustainable activities including green jobs, sustainable energy/water/wastewater treatment, and local
· Ownership will be possible only if concerned stakeholders are part of the solution/activities developed since the beginning. Transition through a joint development plan might be beneficial to ensure the sustainability and durability of the approach.
· Consider low cost and low tech approaches to WASH to ensure long term maintenance and use
· Place environmental elements at the centre of infrastructure exit activities. Special attention should be placed on reflecting the landscape and livelihood activities through rehabilitation activities. This can be reflected through specific measures such as tree planting, proper decommissioning of latrines, and the provision of a site plan to the landowners to ensure that water points are not installed near former toilet pits.
· Develop training of government and Local Authority staff on all aspects of the durable solutions and needs of the residual population may be required in order to ensure the capacity of the Camp Management Agency to be an informed and effective lead the process. Training may include, Communications skills, Human rights issues, IDPs, National laws and policies on IDPs, Protection (including gender and vulnerable groups), Participatory assessments, Data collection, and processing.

Lessons Learnt
Lessons from past experiences

Environmental data in strengthening response – the case of Nepal:

On 25 April 2015, Nepal was struck by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake. This was followed by a 7.3 magnitude earthquake on 12 May 2015. These earthquakes resulted in over 7,800 deaths and widespread damage and destruction.

A large-scale international humanitarian response effort was mobilized thereafter. Environmental mainstreaming into the response effort was largely facilitated by an environmental assessment and the subsequent strategic sharing and dissemination of the data findings by environmental actors.

The Nepal Ministry of Science, Technology, and Environment; World Wildlife Fund (WWF); and Hariyo Ban (a consortium of environmental actors) initiated a rapid environmental assessment of earthquake-affected areas. The assessment consisted of a desk review, field observations, focus groups, and stakeholder consultations. The collaboration between different actors facilitated access to a greater range of networks and data sources, considerably benefiting data collection and analysis.

OCHA facilitated the sharing of the preliminary findings by WWF at an inter-cluster coordination meeting. This marked a noticeable increase in environmental awareness amongst clusters. This provided an entry point for WWF and Hariyo Ban members to follow up bilaterally with individual clusters, leading to the development, dissemination, and operationalization of cluster-specific guidance documents for the integration of environmental considerations into response programming. The data from the assessment was shared online and bilaterally with relevant parties, enabling individual actors to adapt their response activities accordingly.

Refer to –

Activity Measurement
Environmental indicators/monitoring examples

# of plans developed to mitigate environmental risks identified;

# of environmental enhancement activities included into the project

Use of environmental and social screening/safeguard tools to define WASH activities;

Activity status
Main Focus
Focus of suggested activities

Prevention of environmental damage

Mitigation of environmental damage

Environmental enhancement

Resource implications (physical assets, time, effort)

Include environmental actors and community organisations with environment-related interests in planning and organisations involved in natural resource management in community consultations and focus group discussions;

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