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)
Access to water for human consumption
Water extraction for water consumption and hygiene activities
Water extraction for water consumption and hygiene activities

Water extraction for water consumption and hygiene activities


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

The natural water cycle supports the continuous movement of water on, above, and below the surface of the Earth. Human interventions within this natural cycle, such as water extraction, climate change, and construction of impermeable surfaces, can have negative impacts on the natural water resource, such as causing water scarcity, water stress, and water pollution. For example, if there is less water available locally within the cycle, groundwater resources can diminish unsustainably. In addition, changes in rainfall patterns can impact people and ecosystems by altering the availability of water throughout the year.

Gender, age, disability and HIV/AIDS implications

Women play a major role in domestic water management in areas where safe water and drainage are not available in the house. In these settings, women are typically responsible for collecting, storing, and using water and for disposing of wastewater. For this reason, women are especially affected by the water supply mechanisms designed for the communities because in many cultures women are in charge of obtaining water. Also, water extraction systems need to be designed considering gender, cultural and behavioral aspects along with the proper environmental measures that apply. For example, if a delivered water supply system doesn’t match with the cultural aspects of the communities, people may tend to extract water from other sources.

In addition to this, women can be recruited to support the monitoring of water quantity and quality. Training women in such tasks would give them an important and technical role that could contribute to enhancing women’s status in water management.

People living with chronic or terminal illnesses, the very old and very young, are more vulnerable to water-borne disease than others.


Environmental impact categories

Water pollution
Loss of biodiversity and ecosystems
Natural Resource depletion
Loss of biodiversity and ecosystems
Soil erosion
Increased drought / flood

Air pollution
Soil pollution
Climate change

Summary of Impacts
Summary of potential environmental impacts

Depletion and degradation of water resources and degradation of ecosystems due to over-extraction of water.

Water pollution due to unprotected water points.

Air and water pollution due to usage of fossil fuels for pumping.

Impact detail
Detailed potential environmental impact information

Monitoring is essential as pumping unconfined aquifers could unsustainably deplete water resources and impact other users and groundwater-dependent ecosystems. Typically, the deeper the aquifer, the slower the recharge rate, and the more energy is needed to pump an adequate supply. Similarly, confined aquifers usually have lower recharge rates because the recharge areas may be located far away, and surface water sources can also be easily diminished due to uncontrolled use.

Improperly planned or sized systems can unsustainably deplete water resources and lead to future water scarcity. Also, over-extraction of groundwater can cause saltwater intrusion into aquifers, land subsidence, and increased energy requirements for ongoing extraction, which can make it costly and environmentally harmful if using diesel or other fossil fuels to power generators. Similarly, aquatic ecosystems and habitats can be irreversibly harmed and flow paths altered where surface waters are over-extracted.

A related impact of groundwater pumping is the lowering of groundwater levels below the depth that streamside or wetland vegetation needs to survive. The overall effect is a loss of riparian vegetation and wildlife habitat.

Inadequate protection of wells can lead to an increased risk of source pollution. Stagnant water can act as a host for disease vectors. Where there is a direct connection between water on the surface and water in the aquifer, any pollutant entering the surface water has the potential to pollute the entire aquifer.

Constructing boreholes to alleviate drought can decrease the mobility of pastoralists and contribute to environmental damage as they continuously graze their herds near the boreholes. Awareness of the connectivity between change in one sector and change in another sector, and how they impact each other can lead to complementary interventions that address more than one sector simultaneously.

A sustainable water supply is necessary to maintain good levels of personal hygiene and reduce the likelihood of disease outbreaks. Water pumping can consume large amounts of energy which can make it costly and environmentally harmful if using diesel or other fossil fuels to power generators or local electricity grids. In addition to this, the risk of fuel spills such as diesel is high and pollution risks are higher when fuel spillage containment bunds are not constructed under the tanks to contain spills.


Summary of environmental activities

Monitor and control the amounts of water extracted from groundwater and surface water sources.

Promote water-saving behaviors and provide alternative sources of water where necessary.

Develop a Water Safety Plan together with the water users.

Remedial measures commonly include sealing the top of the wells, including building an apron, constructing fences around water points, building water drainage channels around the extraction points, and designing containers or spill dams.

Design gravity-fed water capture, storage, and distribution systems where possible.

Use efficient low-energy consumption technologies or introduce renewable energy sources (for example low-tech windmill type pumps in areas of regular wind, solar panels, or bicycle pumps).

Detailed guidance for implementing suggested environmental activities

Verify that water sources are extracted in a sustainable way, using groundwater monitoring for aquifer capacity and recharge rate and determining safe limits for extraction. Water demand should be compared with the recharge/flow/yield rates of water resources.

Systems should be designed to cater to projected future increased demand over the lifespan or to be easily upscaled. This minimizes the likelihood of potential future unsustainable water abstraction/extraction, as well as the need for future WASH interventions. National or local water authorities can be a knowledgeable source of information on water sources, usage patterns, learned experiences, etc. and permissions for water infrastructure development or any water extraction may be required, such as relevant regulatory environmental requirements.

It is recommended that the requirements of a well (depth, type of pump to be applied) be defined, not as a result of a “golden rule”, but considering the hydrogeological context and using all available hydrogeological data.

Promote water-saving behaviors wherever necessary and identify alternative sources of water where local abstraction is unsustainable – consider rainwater harvesting, greywater capture, and re-use for gardening; temporary bowstring whilst constructing new water abstraction, treatment, and pipeline facilities.

Water Safety Plans should be developed together with community representatives, so they can understand the causes of pollution and the need for water point protection, and the need for ongoing maintenance of that protection.

Springs and wells should be properly lined and sealed, while fences around the water extraction points can prevent waste, defecation, and other pollutants from collecting at the surface and entering the well. The area around the extraction points should be appropriately leveled with properly designed drainage to avoid the pooling of water.

Gravity-fed water abstraction and distribution systems are sometimes possible from river sources. Extraction points located at higher elevations reduce energy consumption during operation as gravity can be leveraged for flow distribution and minimizes the need for constant operation of pumps to provide water supply, thus reducing energy usage.

Renewable energy options should be explored for both temporary and permanent water abstraction and low energy consumption pumps should be explored.

The environmental, social, and economic impacts of electricity production should be considered, and appropriately prevented or mitigated. For example, the use of generators can create air and noise pollution from combustion, mainly due to carbon dioxide (CO2) and water vapor (H2O) products.

Ministries of environment may well have data on areas where wind power potential or other renewable energy has been assessed and can be used.

Lessons Learnt
Lessons from past experiences

The 2005 South Asia tsunami brought devastation to the coastal areas of many countries. Amongst the destruction was the pollution of many open wells. Many humanitarian actors responded by installing tube wells. This led to the over-abstraction of groundwater. Continued pumping led to saltwater intrusion into groundwater aquifers in many locations. This resulted in the closure of many tube wells and construction of either additional much deeper wells or more remote wells and costly piped water infrastructure. This duplicate work could have been avoided if pumping had been monitored and lightly restricted.

Communities in Gulu, northern Uganda reported increased rates of sickness. This was ultimately traced back to polluted water sources. A local NGO, PAG, supported the community in developing their own Water Safety Plan to clean up and protect water sources. Community health improved very rapidly.

Most of the world’s cities struggle with high levels of air pollution from vehicles, factories, offices, households, and other activities. This includes fossil fuels used for pumping water to large populations.

Activity Measurement
Environmental indicators/monitoring examples

Water sources are monitored and water extraction limits are set according to tests and considering the aquifer recharge rate (for groundwater sources)

Water sources are monitored and water extraction limits are set according to tests and considering the minimum environmental flow (for surface water sources)

Percentage of water obtained using the recommended environmental guidelines

Number of Water Safety Plans developed collaboratively with community representatives.

Drainage channels and containment structures are built around extraction points.

Wells have a lid or closing structure that prevents pollution

Percentage of energy used in water extraction that comes from renewable sources and low energy consuming technologies.

Activity status
Main Focus
Focus of suggested activities

Prevention of environmental damage

Mitigation of environmental damage

Resource implications (physical assets, time, effort)

Depends on the intervention. It includes tests for groundwater sources and surface water flows, procurement, and installation of renewable energy equipment such as solar panels, windmills, and material for the construction of drainage channels.

Time to develop Water Safety Plans with community representatives and design, construct and maintain water point protection facilities.

Time to assess water abstraction sites and to assess the viability of gravity-fed, gravity-assisted, or renewable energy pumped systems.

Next guidance:

Water testing
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