Humanitarian operations go green

Thu, 19/08/10
Humanitarian action and relief efforts save lives and provide essential aid in the aftermath of natural disasters, conflicts and other crisis. But despite this critical role, humanitarian actions can result in damage to the environment, which is not often prioritised as a life saving issue.
A new online resource centre developed by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) will help boost efforts to reduce the environmental impact of humanitarian relief and recovery operations around the world.
Launched today, on World Humanitarian Day, the Resource Centre for Mainstreaming Environment into Humanitarian Action is the first online collection of practical information explaining how to integrate environmental considerations into humanitarian action.
The new website features guidelines, training materials, case studies and other tools and is intended as a handbook for humanitarian workers. The site can be accessed at
Actions like cutting down trees to provide shelter and firewood and the inadequate management of medical waste can impact the success of recovery activities by putting stress on natural resources and livelihoods, thereby leaving populations vulnerable to future crises.
In the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo for example, the size and density of settlements for internally displaced persons has led to severe degradation of wildlife populations, trees and other natural resources in some areas, even encroaching on the Virunga National Park.
Following the devastating earthquake in Haiti in January, emergency food distribution resulted in a big increase in solid and liquid waste, mainly due to packaging. Additionally, the distribution of raw food has increased the need for charcoal, which can lead to the removal of even more trees in a country with an estimated total forest cover of just 2-4%.
Making relief and recovery operations more environmentally-sound will ensure that both human welfare and the environment are protected and conserved in response to a disaster or conflict.