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Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response

Shelter and settlement standard 5: Environmental impact

Shelter and settlement solutions and the material sourcing and construction techniques used minimise adverse impact on the local natural environment.

Key actions (to be read in conjunction with the guidance notes)

Key indicators (to be read in conjunction with the guidance notes)

Guidance notes

  1. Environmental assessment: The impact of a disaster on the natural environment should be assessed to inform the response and mitigating activities required. Many natural disasters, for example landslides, are often a direct result of the mismanagement of natural environmental resources. Alternatively, they may be due to existing environmental risks or vulnerabilities, such as seasonal flooding in low-lying areas or the lack of natural environmental resources that can be safely harvested. An understanding of these risks is essential to inform settlement planning and to ensure that known vulnerabilities including the impact of climate change are addressed as part of the response. 

  2. Sustainability and the management of environmental resources: Where the environmental resources required to support a substantial increase in human habitation are limited, any such unsustainable demand on the natural environment should be mitigated. Where such natural resources are available, temporary communal settlements should be managed to minimise environmental damage. Sustainable external supplies of fuel and options for livestock grazing, agricultural production and other natural resource-dependent livelihood support activities should be provided and managed. Fewer but larger managed settlements may be more environmentally sustainable than a larger number of smaller, dispersed settlements that are not as easily managed or monitored. The impact on the natural environmental resource needs of populations hosting those affected by the disaster or settled close to the affected area should be considered.

  3. Mitigating long-term environmental impact: The management of natural environmental resources should be considered at all planning levels. Where the need to provide shelter for affected populations has a significant adverse impact on the natural environment through the depletion of local environmental resources, the long-term effects should be minimised through complementary environmental management and rehabilitation activities. Consultation with appropriate environmental agencies is recommended.

  4. Sourcing of construction materials: The environmental impact of sourcing natural environmental resources should be assessed, such as water, construction timber, sand, soil and grasses, as well as fuel for the firing of bricks and roof tiles. Identify customary users, extraction and regeneration rates and the ownership or control of these resources. Alternative or complementary sources of supply may support the local economy and reduce any long-term adverse impact on the local natural environment. The use of multiple sources and the reuse of salvaged materials, alternative materials and production processes (such as the use of stabilised earth blocks) should be promoted. This should be combined with mitigation practices, such as complementary replanting.

  5. Erosion: Shelter and settlement solutions should be planned to retain trees and other vegetation to stabilise the soil and to maximise the opportunities for shade and protection from the climate. Natural contours should be used for such elements as roads, pathways and drainage networks in order to minimise erosion and flooding. Where this cannot be achieved, any likely erosion should be contained through the provision of excavated drainage channels, piped drainage runs under roadways or planted earth banks to minimise water run-off (see Drainage standard 1).

  6. Handover: The natural regeneration of the environment should be enhanced in and around temporary communal settlements through appropriate environmental rehabilitation measures. The eventual discontinuation of any such settlements should be managed to ensure the satisfactory removal of all material or waste that cannot be reused or that could have an adverse effect on the natural environment.