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Environment and Humanitarian Action: Country Study Afghanistan

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Executive Summary

The Afghanistan Environment and Humanitarian Action (EHA) country-level study is one in a series of studies undertaken by the Joint UNEP/OCHA Environment Unit (JEU) in 2015 that assesses the extent to which environmental concerns have been mainstreamed in humanitarian action. The study provides guidance and advice to humanitarian actors on how to improve environmental mainstreaming in a protracted crisis. In June 2015, OCHA and UNEP undertook a two week mission to Afghanistan to better understand environmental mainstreaming in a range of contexts, including: conflict and natural disaster related internal displacement, Pakistani refugees in camps and host communities, and Afghan refugees in return and resettlement programmes. In addition, the study analysed the extent to which environmental concerns have been integrated into the Humanitarian Programme Cycle, particularly through the Environment Marker.

The study indicates that while there is generally a high level of awareness of the need to support environmental mainstreaming, the majority of humanitarian actors require context specific practical guidance to ensure integration takes place. The conflict, related mass population movements, and ongoing relief and recovery efforts have all contributed to environmental degradation in Afghanistan (eg. diminishing groundwater resources and deforestation). While some humanitarian clusters have succeeded in taking clear steps towards more environmentally sensitive approaches on paper (eg.
WASH, Shelter, and Health), ensuring their quality and impact is hampered by security constraints and capacity to monitor programmes. While individual donors in Afghanistan do not apply environmental screening of proposals, there is support for Common Humanitarian Fund (CHF) application of the Environment Marker and growing recognition that inclusion of environment considerations contributes to disaster risk reduction and resilience in Afghanistan.

Five important factors to further strengthen environmental mainstreaming in protracted crisis were identified in Afghanistan:

Know the environmental context: Context -specific guidance which takes into consideration the environment and natural resource needs of affected communities better informs response operations. Humanitarian actors are responding across Afghanistan to a variety of needs of people with differing legal status (refugees and IDPs in informal and formal settlements) in a range of ecological settings. Simply providing generic global guidance on environmental mainstreaming, which has not been contextualised to the situation on the ground, is insufficient, particularly in countries where humanitarian action is likely for years to come.

Engage national and local environmental expertise: A wealth of local knowledge on environment and natural resource issues exists in local and national environmental institutions and is best placed to inform humanitarian action. Greater UNEP and National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA) involvement in emergency preparedness and response processes of the Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) and the Afghanistan National Disaster Management Authority (ANDMA) is an effective means to ensure environmental considerations are better covered.

More thorough environmental assessment will better inform humanitarian response: Humanitarian response informed by assessments that include environmental impact considerations and the resource needs of the affected population can help save money, avoid delays and strengthen long-term resilience of affected populations. A range of tools are available that should increasingly be applied in humanitarian settings including the Flash Environmental Assessment Tool (FEAT), Rapid Environmental Assessment (REA), and project based environmental impact assessment. The objective of humanitarian action is to save lives, alleviate suffering and maintain human dignity during and after disasters. However, poorly located and designed settlements supported by humanitarian actors have had negative consequences on the health, education, livelihoods and protection of the very people it was meant to serve.

Incorporate energy considerations into emergency preparedness and response: In protracted crisis apply global best practice and tools in regard to energy supply. The medium and longterm nature of displacement in Afghanistan warrants development of an energy strategy to improve access to household fuel and lighting using appropriate technologies and renewable energy.

Consistent integration of environmental considerations into funding decisions: The majority of donors in Afghanistan do not take into consideration environmental impacts of funding decisions with the exception of the Common Humanitarian Fund (CHF). In general, agencies have little incentive from donors to incorporate environment into humanitarian operations.

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