The Environmental Emergencies Centre (EEC) is an online preparedness tool designed to enable an effective response to environmental emergencies. The EEC is a one-stop-shop of information, tools, trainings and guidance to inform a more prepared and effective response to environmental emergencies.According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment), “environmental emergencies are defined as a sudden onset disaster or accident resulting from natural, technological or human-induced factors, or a combination of these that cause or threaten to cause severe environmental damage as well as loss of human lives and property.”
Environmental emergencies are often misunderstood, and thus often poorly prepared for. Preparing for such events is essential in order to reduce the secondary impacts of the disaster, and to allow a more effective response and timely recovery to occur.
The EEC, founded in 2012, is an initiative of the UN Environment/OCHA Joint Unit, developed in close coordination with the Advisory Group on Environmental Emergencies. The EEC is a tool for everyone, communities and governments alike, seeking assistance through training, knowledge, experience and good practice sharing to increase their preparedness to be able to effectively respond when disasters strike.
The increasingly unpredictable nature of our world today reinforces the need for increased preparedness against the secondary impacts of natural, technical or human-induced environmental disasters.
The Environmental Emergencies Centre (EEC) is a joint initiative of the Strategic Advisory Group on Environmental Emergencies (SAGEE), hosted by the UN Environment/OCHA Joint Unit. The EEC requires the partnerships of a number of organisations working in the field of preparedness for environmental emergencies, so to ensure that the content is most accurate, effective and of practical use to those responding.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is the part of the United Nations Secretariat responsible for bringing together humanitarian actors to ensure a coherent response to emergencies. OCHA also ensures there is a framework within which each actor can contribute to the overall response effort.
UN Environment seeks to provide leadership and encourage partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.
The UN Environment/OCHA Joint Unit (JEU) is a partnership that pairs the environmental expertise of UN Environment and the humanitarian response network coordinated by OCHA. The Unit addresses the environmental impacts of sudden-onset disasters and accidents by coordinating international efforts and mobilizing response partners. It assists countries requesting assistance in preparedness and response to environmental emergencies. The JEU engages in over 15 different networks and partnerships, liaising closely with UN agencies, programmes and affiliated organizations, as well as regional organisations and member states. Private sector, industry groups, academic and research institutions are also well represented among JEU partners.
Emergency preparedness supports the creation of favorable conditions for successful emergency response. The EEC’s activities aim to support the three main preparedness responsibilities of internal response capacity, strengthening the capacity of humanitarian coordination systems, and increasing the capacity of national authorities and regional organizations to aid in the mobilization of humanitarian assistance to environmental emergencies.
The EEC offers the following services:
- A library, including numerous tools, guidelines, reports and publications.
- An online training series, with a variety of free eLearning modules on preparing for and responding to environmental emergencies.
- A section for the partners, offering updates on advocacy initiatives, international and national governance and policy.
- An events system, detailing upcoming and past events occuring globally related to environmental emergencies.
- A discussion forum, where registered users can start a discussion or contribute to ongoing discussions related to environmental emergencies.
“Environmental emergencies are defined as a sudden onset disaster or accident resulting from natural, technological or human-induced factors, or a combination of these, that cause or threaten to cause severe environmental damage as well as loss of human lives and property.” (UNEP/GC.22/INF/5, 13 November 2002)
There are three broad categories of environmental emergencies as outlined below.
Sudden onset natural disasters
Tsunamis, mudslides, floods and earthquakes may damage industrial facilities and lead to the release of hazardous substances. They may also lay waste to entire villages and cities, distributing debris and waste over large areas of land, and creating widespread health risks. Natural disasters may cause severe secondary impacts and have immediate implications for people’s health and for the safety of those involved in rescue efforts.
An example of a large-scale natural disasters is the 2016 Hurricane Matthew which struck the Caribbean causing widespread destruction. It is estimated that around 175,000 people were left homeless in Haiti, where livelihoods were also lost as many communities are dependent on farming and fishing for food and income. Large amounts of debris and rubble also complicated recovery
Human induced / technological or industrial accidents
Hazardous materials can be released into the environment as a result of accidents in hospitals, construction sites, manufacturing plants, mining facilities, or any other industrial facility. This includes transportation, for example, an oil spill from a ship or a chemical spill from a truck involved in a road accident.
As example of such an accident is the March 2012 ammunition-depot explosions in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo.
Conflict and war
A complex emergency is a situation where the breakdown of order in a country, coupled with armed conflict and frequently natural disasters, causes extensive violence, loss of life, the displacement of large portions of the population and widespread damage to the society and their economy. Armed conflict can cause explosions, fires, and the release of toxic materials that require immediate assessment and attention.
An example of such a disaster was the burning of oil wells and a sulphur storage in Iraq in 2016. The burning of crude oil produced a wide range of pollutants, including soot and gases that cause health problems such as skin irritation and shortness of breath.
Oil wells near Al Qayyarah, Iraq (Credit: OCHA, Nasr Muflahi)
Emergency preparedness supports the creation of favorable conditions for successful emergency response. The Centre’s activities aim to support the three main preparedness responsibilities of internal response capacity, strengthening the capacity of humanitarian coordination systems, and increasing the capacity of national authorities and regional organizations to aid in the mobilization of humanitarian assistance.
The Centre is involved in a number of awareness-raising activities and advocates for greater investment on disaster preparedness for environmental emergencies. Among these activities are the Green Star Awards, a collaborative initiative among Green Cross International (GCI), OCHA and UN Environment which recognize individuals, organizations, governments and private enterprises that have demonstrated leadership in preparing for, responding to, and reducing the environmental impacts of disasters and conflicts; additionally, regular engagement with media.
The EEC Partners actively contributes to advocacy and policy development, in order to ensure that more countries are not only better prepared to respond to crisis, but also more resilient towards recurring disasters. These Networks and Partners work to raise awareness of the potential risks and impacts of Environmental Emergencies, which is the core belief of the EEC. Read more.