A new online resource centre developed by the United Nations seeks to help reduce the damage done to the environment during humanitarian and relief activities in the aftermath of natural disasters, conflicts and other crises.
The Resource Centre for Mainstreaming Environment into Humanitarian Action features guidelines, training materials, case studies and other tools and is intended as a handbook for relief workers.
The new website was launched today, on World Humanitarian Day, by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
“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,” the agency stated in a news release.
UNEP noted that despite the critical role relief work plays during a crisis, actions like cutting down trees to provide shelter and firewood and the inadequate management of medical waste can impact the success of humanitarian action.
One example of this is in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where the size and density of settlements for internally displaced persons (IDPs) has led to severe degradation of wildlife populations, trees and other natural resources in some areas, even encroaching on the Virunga National Park, according to UNEP.
Also, emergency food distribution following the devastating earthquake in Haiti in January resulted in a big increase in solid and liquid waste, mainly due to packaging.
The agency pointed out that several best practices have proven that including environmental considerations in humanitarian operations is not only better for the environment but also cost-effective.
These include sending supplies by ship rather than by air, as well as predictable and coordinated planning of logistical operations.
More than 150 resources from over 20 organizations are already featured on the website, and UNEP is calling for contributions of resources in any language from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), governments, UN agencies, private sector and academic and research institutions.