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Humanitarian Aid on the move # 12, special issue: Environment

A team invested in improving humanitarian practices and active in preserving their natural environment
Blanche Renaudin & François Grünewald

Key word: Point of view /

Groupe URD’s headquarters is located in an area of small mountains in the Drôme Provençale region, facing the Mont Ventoux. This isolated site is surrounded by a diversified natural environment which is rich in resources. It is sometimes subjected to climatic hazards which destabilize the environment and which can lead to water shortages, forest fires and landslides. The exposure to natural risks that can be seen in the numerous countries where Groupe URD operates is echoed in some of the phenomena present in the area where we are located. Faced with the growing number of climate-related issues and the conflicts linked to access to resources in numerous countries, the preservation of the natural environment is essential. Thus, in addition to promoting the integration of the environment in the humanitarian sector for several years, Groupe URD has tried to be coherent by reducing its environmental footprint through a number of technological and behavioral choices.

 In order to deal with scarce water resources: reduced consumption, recycling and rainwater harvesting

The isolated location means that it is not possible to be connected to the mains water network. The water therefore comes from a spring, which is used for domestic uses (drinking water and sanitation). The spring’s rate of flow varies throughout the year and there can be shortages. Thus, in order to ensure that water is continuously available, even for events involving a hundred people, a complementary system of rainwater harvesting has been put in place, collecting water from the roofs and filling a network of tanks. In addition, as part of an integrated approach to risk management, there is an agreement with the local fire brigade giving them access to the water tanks should this ever be necessary.

Saving water is also an important issue, and this is promoted by raising awareness among the people on the site and by the existence of specific installations.

  • Dry toilets have been built, helping to reduce the consumption of water considerably while allowing excreta to be used to structure and fertilise soil.
    For pedagogical reasons, two types of dry toilet have been built:
    • compost toilets: treatment of excreta enriched with carbon-rich matter (sawdust) by composting.
    • dehydration toilets: separation of urine and faeces at the source; urine can be used directly as a fertilizer, and the faeces are treated by dehydration and the addition of alkaline matter (wood ash).
  • A phyto-purification sanitation system has also been put in place with a series of three sanitation ponds in which macrophytes are planted. This contributes to recharging the water table and is part of a living ecosystem.
  • Plants are watered as much as possible with drip irrigation systems.

An ecological swimming pool uses stabilised spring water treated by phyto purification (macrophytes).