Frequently Asked Quesions
Everything you need to know about the Coordination of Assessments for Environment in Humanitarian Action
The Coordination of Assessments for Environment in Humanitarian Action: A Joint Initiative is a collaborative effort to improve coordination between environment and humanitarian actors both before and after disasters, with a focus on updating key environmental assessment tools. The project will, through better dissemination of tools, resources and environmental data, support efficient consideration of environment and climate knowledge in humanitarian assistance.
This effort entails three complementary parts:
- A stakeholder consultation process with key humanitarian and environment experts to identify entry points for enhanced coordination between environmental and humanitarian agencies;
- Updating and disseminating environmental assessment tools, including the Rapid Environmental Assessment (REA). Updates in technical content will include climate variability, climate change and resilience considerations, and updates in modality will include online accessibility, strengthening the interconnectivity of available tools and pinpointing which ones are used at a particular stage of humanitarian programming or type of emergency.
- Partnering with agencies and organisations who are interested in piloting sections of the updated tools and methodology in 2018.
Disasters and conflict cause both loss of life and damage to the natural resources upon which societies depends for their well-being. Effective humanitarian assistance not only saves lives and reduces suffering, but also enhances recovery efforts and strengthens the capacity of a community to withstand future crises. Integrating environment into humanitarian operations is critical to a holistic approach to risk and vulnerability reduction.
This practice can help to address underlying environmental issues that may have contributed to a crisis or disaster; protect livelihoods by safeguarding natural resources; improve affected communities’ health and safety through reducing air and water pollution, and serve the poor, who are disproportionately dependent on the environment and thus particularly vulnerable to its degradation.
AGENDA FOR HUMANITY: In 2016, ahead of the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, the United Nations Secretary-General unveiled his Agenda for Humanity. Centred around five core responsibilities, the plan aims to deliver better results for people in humanitarian crisis.
Core Responsibility #4 of the Agenda for Humanity demands a shift in how humanitarians work – from delivering aid to ending need. It asks for humanitarians to reinforce, not replace, national systems; to anticipate, not wait for crises; and to transcend the humanitarian-development divide. By integrating environment and climate risk thinking into preparedness and response, and working closely with local actors and governments, humanitarians will support the achievement of these objectives.
Additionally, Core Responsibility #1 calls for leadership to prevent/end conflicts. Most of the world’s population depends on natural resources for income and livelihoods. However uneven distribution, availability and accessibility of natural resources have regularly triggered conflicts. In certain areas, volatile climate patterns have been an additional factor affecting security. In recognition of these issues, a growing number of researchers, policy-makers and practitioners now stress the importance of integrating environmental aspects such as natural resource management into peacebuilding and conflict prevention strategies.
NEW WAY OF WORKING: The Commitment to Action, adopted after the World Humanitarian Summit, defines the new way of working as working towards collective outcomes across the U.N. system and the broader humanitarian and development community. This includes transcending the humanitarian-development divide and working concurrently on parallel tracks since both humanitarian and development communities are focused on addressing vulnerability over multiple years. Environment is a current running through both parallel tracks that has the potential to bridge the divide between first humanitarian response, early recovery and human development.
LOCALISATION AND ACCOUNTABILITY TO AFFECTED PEOPLE: The industry benchmark for good quality, accountable and people-centred humanitarian response, the Core Humanitarian Standard for Quality and Accountability (CHS), references the environment in two of its 9 core commitments.
Commitment 3 emphasizes the need to identify and act on unintended negative effects on the environment. Commitment 9 emphasizes the need to govern the use and management of resources in an environmentally responsible way.
By referencing the environment in this way, the CHS clearly supports the mainstreaming of environment issues into humanitarian practices as a means of improving the quality, and therefore sustainability, of humanitarian action.
The environment will always be intrinsically linked to the local context. Managing it well is a key entry point for engaging with and furthering accountability among affected communities. Addressing environmental impacts of humanitarian action is a way for humanitarians to support a locally led response and to encourage the move from relief to development.
With regards to a localised approach to aid, more than 30 of the world’s biggest donors and aid groups signalled their intention to get more funds to local actors when they signed the Grand Bargain in 2016. As part of the package of reforms, meant to address the humanitarian financing gap, Grand Bargain signatories pledged to provide at least one quarter of humanitarian funding as directly as possible to local NGOs. The United Nations’ New Way of Working also highlights the need to support local actors better.
The core stakeholders are the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the UN Environment/Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Joint Environment Unit (JEU) and the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB).
Stakeholders consulted and involved in the project include the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, various clusters (WASH, Shelter, Early Recovery), UN entities (WFP, UNDP, FAO, UNICEF, UNITAR) and NGOs (Norwegian Refugee Council, Catholic Relief Services, Mercy Corps, World Vision International, Habitat for Humanity, CARE). The initiative has also held consultations with environmental organisations (The Nature Conservancy, Environmental Law Institute, WWF, IUCN), humanitarian programme monitoring and evaluation experts (ACAPS, REACH), major donors and various initiatives with specific links to environment in humanitarian work including Disaster Waste Recovery and the Moving Energy Initiative.
The Initiative is focussing on the assessment phase of humanitarian response as a critical first step in addressing environmental considerations in humanitarian action.
To date environmental assessment tools are not widely used in humanitarian response. Challenges to integrating environmental assessments in humanitarian action include the wide variety of available tools which can complicate an already complex decision-making process for humanitarian responders who lack an environmental background or knowledge of which tool should be selected. While some assessment tools include guidance on when and how to use the assessment, relief organisations need to be able to enter the assessment process equipped with this knowledge ahead of time. Another challenge is streamlining the environmental assessment framework so that there are clear linkages between the use of a specific assessment tool and how it will improve life-saving operations and long-term livelihood provision.
A large focus of this initiative is therefore around updating key environmental assessment methodologies as well as enhancing the interconnectivity of available tools and their online accessibility. The initiative also aims to clarify which tools are used at a particular stage of humanitarian programming or type of emergency context.
A particular focus will be on updating the Rapid Environmental Impact Assessment in Disasters (REA), a tool developed in 2004/5 for humanitarian actors to use to identify, define and prioritise potential environmental impacts in disasters without requiring technical expertise in environmental issues. The update will look at the technical content, the methodology and modality, as well as how it connects and can better integrate with the wider humanitarian assessment landscape.
People rely on the environment for their health and livelihoods – the two are inextricably linked. Therefore there is great potential for both conservation and humanitarian organisations to work together to make sure that lives, livelihoods and the environment are all equally supported. Although much conservation work contributes to nature-based disaster risk reduction, there is the need for these organisations to better understand the humanitarian architecture and how disaster response works (including the UN Cluster system and tools such as the MIRA, PDNA etc), the fluctuating nature of hazards and risk awareness and ways to build resilience. There are opportunities for both sides to work together both before and after disasters and this initiative is working to improve this collaboration and coordination through the sharing of environmental data and information, to make sure that lives and livelihoods and the environment are all protected and improved as much as possible in humanitarian operations.
Sign up to our newsletter or contact the team for further information:
- Joint Assessment Initiative: Team Leader, Mandy George (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- USAID’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance, Bureau Environmental Officer Erika Clesceri (email@example.com)
- United Nations Joint Environment Unit, Emilia Wahlstrom (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Senior Environmental Coordinator Amare Gebre Egziabher (email@example.com)
- WWF, Senior Director, Environment and Disaster Management, Anita van Breda (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) , Environmental Advisor, Leif Jonsson (email@example.com)