Growing momentum behind Joint Initiative as it launches Working Groups

The ability of communities to recover from a disaster, and flourish again, is underpinned by a healthy environment.

Clean waterways, landslide protection provided by forests and ground cover and sustained natural resources on which people rely for their livelihoods are some of the many environmental factors critical to early recovery and longer-term resilience.

More humanitarian organisations are recognizing this important linkage with growing momentum behind the Coordination of Assessments for Environment in Humanitarian Action (the Joint Initiative) at this year’s Humanitarian Networks and Partnership Week (HNPW), which was held February 5-9 in Geneva.

The gathering, a space for humanitarians to come together to solve common operational problems, provided an excellent opportunity to launch Working Groups linked to the Joint Initiative’s core deliverables of building an Environment in Humanitarian Action (EHA) Framework and updating a project level environmental assessment tool for humanitarian action (NEAT). The third Working Group is dedicated to remote environmental analysis.

In total, more than 70 actors from 30 organisations are signed up to participate in the Working Groups. It is hoped their commitment in helping to shape the way environment in humanitarian action is framed conceptually and implemented practically at field level will ensure the issue is no longer a niche concern but a mainstream response adopted within the humanitarian system.

“The HNPW is a unique space where practitioners come together to network and brainstorm on how to provide innovative solutions to some of the issues facing the humanitarian system today. Environment featured prominently as part of this, to move the frontiers of crisis response from short term stability to long term resilience. The Joint Initiative is one of the ways of tackling this critical issue across the system,” said Tomas Declerq, Programme Officer of the UN Environment/OCHA Joint Unit (JEU).

The Working Group on the EHA Framework was asked to provide feedback on the design and content of the Framework, an online, searchable resource that will also be a home for environmental assessment tools.

Following inputs from participants and building on previous stakeholder consultations, it was decided that the Framework would focus on preparedness, sudden onset and protracted crises with operational programme/project level considerations integrated at these three levels.

“The Framework is an innovative way to approach Environment in Humanitarian Action, in that it aims to incorporate lessons learned from processes that didn’t quite work in the past to help mainstream best practice around environmental considerations in humanitarian response, in the future,” said Annica Waleij from the Swedish Defence Research Agency.

The Working Group on remote environmental analysis was asked to review the proposal for a process to strengthen humanitarian analysis by involving environmental actors and ensuring that environmental factors and data are included at an early stage. Ideas for integrating environmental considerations into wider remote analysis processes were further developed and will be piloted over the coming months.

Participants to the Working Group on the Project Level Assessment Tool Update were tasked with overseeing the update of a tool that builds upon the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Environmental Assessment Tool (NEAT). The focus is on providing a methodology that is rapid, does not require environmental expertise, is open source therefore easily accessible and can be adapted to organizations’ individual needs.

Best practice

The tool rounds off a coherent and comprehensive approach to promoting environmental considerations in humanitarian response which has as its starting point, the Framework, which will address many of the challenges related to the use and application of environmental assessments, some of them systematic.

The next stage - remote environmental analysis - will provide vital environmental information to the right people at the right time in a humanitarian response, while the tool will be of practical use to responders in the field.

There was widespread interest amongst humanitarian organisations in piloting the tool later this year with a range of settings discussed.

“This participatory process of bringing together 30 organisations to work collectively on taking forward these EHA tools and systems is critical to ensuring that what we are producing are not standalone initiatives, but are endorsed by a wide range of actors and mainstreamed across the humanitarian system,” said Joint Initiative Team Leader Mandy George.

“As such, we are keen to keep them open source and adaptable to organisational needs. For example, the NEAT will be able to be adapted and branded by organisations to meet their internal requirements. We hope these features will mean more uptake and use and ultimately, more robust integration of environmental concerns in humanitarian action.”

In a further sign of increasing momentum behind the Joint Initiative, the United Nations’ Environmental Management Group has commended the Initiative as a best practice example in promoting holistic and shared analysis between environmental and humanitarian actors.

It plans to launch an Issues Management Group (IMG) specifically related to Environment in Humanitarian Action. The Joint Initiative features prominently in the deliverables of the IMG, that will run for approximately three years and aims to provide another vehicle for the deliverables of the Joint Initiative to be further mainstreamed into the humanitarian system and across different organisations.

“Collaboration is at the very heart of the Joint Initiative’s work. We are constantly exploring ways to both link up with other UN-wide work such as around environment and social safeguards and the work of the Inter Agency Standing Committee. Equally important to us is facilitating the inclusion of environmental actors into the humanitarian space. Why? Because collaboration is the key to best practice, and because both the healthy environment and effective humanitarian response we are committed to, requires us all to work together,” Mandy George said.