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IASC Event on Environment in Humanitarian Action: The Case for Partnerships, Innovation
Humanitarian response to disasters cannot be looked at in isolation from the impact on the environment, said Jesper Lund, Chief of OCHA’s Emergency Services Branch in opening remarks at an Inter Agency Standing Committee event in Geneva on June 7 to introduce the Coordination of Assessments for Environment in Humanitarian Action, a joint initiative to improve lives and livelihoods through better coordination between environment and humanitarian actors. Read the full story.
“We need to look at it as a combined effort,” Lund said.
Also offering their perspectives at the event were speakers Mandy George, team leader of the Coordination of Assessments for Environment in Humanitarian Action; Tessa Kelly, Senior Officer for Climate Change Coordination, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies; Georgina Stickels, Environmental Sustainability Manager, World Food Programme; and Erika Clesceri, Bureau Environmental Officer, USAID Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance.
Since 2005 the environment has been identified as a cross-cutting issue which has the potential to bridge the divide between first humanitarian response, early recovery and development. Transcending this divide is one of the many outcomes sought by the Agenda for Humanity and New Way of Working to adapt and improve the response to the world’s most pressing crises.
Humanitarian aid has the potential of contributing to effective disaster and environmental management. For example, after Typhoon Haiyan tore through the Philippines, the early recovery cluster and shelter cluster worked with local government to recycle felled coconut trees, using them for timber, which stopped further deforestation at the same time as clearing disaster waste.
But how can the environment be integrated in humanitarian action? A good starting point is with environmental assessments, said Mandy George of the Coordination of Assessments for Environment in Humanitarian Action: “Without a good assessment you don’t have a full view of the needs which lead to planning and design of good quality programmes. It really is the critical first step to addressing environmental considerations within humanitarian action.”
Yet with so many available assessments, there’s often a lack of awareness among humanitarians of what the tools are, when they are relevant and how to better coordinate with environmental actors. To address these challenges the Coordination of Assessments for Environment in Humanitarian Action aims to promote better data sharing between environmental and humanitarian actors, update the technical content and modality of the assessments, and increase links to the humanitarian programme cycle.
Following a workshop on August 29-30 to discuss a recent consultancy scoping the content, approach and structure of various environment assessment tools, the project aims to pilot some of the updated methodologies next year.
The environment is a “big deal” for a major international humanitarian organization like the IFRC and closely connected to its work, the IFRC’s Tessa Kelly said. A degraded environment can lead to drought, food insecurity and greater disaster risk, resulting in increased humanitarian needs. It can also threaten a loss of livelihoods and well-being. Protecting the environment is therefore critical.
“We can have a pretty heavy environmental cost to our humanitarian operations and we see this as a priority to think about,” Kelly said, outlining some of the ways the IFRC is addressing the issue including through the Green Response Approach, an initiative led by national societies to minimize any detrimental impact of humanitarian action on the environment.
The IFRC is also working on QSAND, a tool for organizations to assess how sustainable their work is economically and environmentally, and developing a new environmental policy.
WFP’s Georgina Stickels spoke of the environment being at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals and driving action within the U.N. agencies, including WFP where it is being given greater consideration in the agency’s operations, programmes and in-house systems.
The majority of the SDGs directly or indirectly hinges on the environment or contributes to the environment, she said: “One of the most critical differences between the Millennium Development Goals and the SDGs is the fundamental recognition that environment was underrepresented in the MDGs, and that only if we start tackling the environment more systematically, are we going to achieve the economic and social benefits that we all agree are so important.”
Aligning with the SDGs, WFP’s new environmental policy approved in February, states that: “Achieving food security and ending hunger require healthy natural ecosystems and sustainable use of natural resources.”
Stickels said WFP was interested in a simplified checklist for emergency responses that could quickly help the agency to identify what environmental data exists, the most urgent environmental issues in the area such as deforestation or depletion of natural resources as well as the location of strategic community assets such as water ways and grazing land.
Concluding the presentation, USAID’s Erika Clesceri drew on lessons from a rapid environmental assessment, which aimed to enhance recovery, reconstruction and resilience efforts following the 2015 Nepal earthquake.
She said a year before the disaster WWF Nepal had trained technical ministries in using the Green Recovery & Reconstruction Toolkit to help prepare them to deal with seasonal floods and landslides. This increased awareness of environmental management resulted in the government reaching out to USAID to help Nepal conduct a rapid environmental assessment after the earthquake.
“We cannot only expect to come and work on environment after the disaster hits. It’s essential we work in strategic partnership and come together before these disasters hit,” Clesceri said.
“That’s the key piece we’re very much pushing with this (Coordination of Assessments for Environment in Humanitarian Action) initiative to formulate these relationships not when these disasters are ongoing but in a strategic preparedness way.”