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Mainstreaming the environment in humanitarian action - rising to the challenge

Key word: Environment /

Humanitarian action takes place in environments that have been weakened and often stretched beyond their capacity for resilience. With protracted crises becoming more and more common, the humanitarian community has understood that preserving the environment during operations is essential to allow crisis victims to regain their autonomy and to avoid serious negative consequences for the local population.

Humanitarian actors, therefore, need to know about:

  • the types of environmental vulnerability which exist in operational contexts and what effects humanitarian programmes have on these;
  • how to take the environment into account in the design and implementation of programmes;
  • the methods and technical solutions which exist.

These are the issues that we dealt with at the 2009 Autumn School on Humanitarian Aid. We looked at what is currently being done to reduce the environmental impact of humanitarian action and explored methodological and technical ideas for taking the environment into account as well as the constraints that exist.
The ‘Open Space’ method, an approach which encourages creativity, collaboration and personal commitment, was used during the two and half days of exchange.

In addition to the debates, there were practical demonstrations of technical solutions such as solar cookers (Tchad Solaire), compost toilets (Toilettes Du Monde), carbon compensation programmes (Geres - Co2 Solidaire), solar cells (Soltys), domestic wind turbines (Tripalium) and compressed earth blocks (Terrabitat).