The Environment and Humanitarian Action (EHA) – Haiti country study is one in a series of country-level studies that assess the extent to which environmental concerns have been mainstreamed in humanitarian action. In addition, the study aims to provide operational guidance and advice to humanitarian actors, including government, and lessons learned to improve environmental mainstreaming. In April 2015, OCHA and UNEP, supported by Groupe URD, undertook a mission to Haiti to look at environmental mainstreaming in the humanitarian response to floods, tropical storms, hurricanes and mainly on the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake.
The study shows that immediately after the disaster, the environment was put under stress due to the procurement of material to construct emergency shelter, which exacerbated ongoing deforestation in Haiti. Eventually transitional shelter initiatives increased demand for gravel and sand and the expansion of often times unregulated quarrying which accelerated ongoing topsoil and river bank erosion increasing the likelihood of landslides. This illustrates that failing to include environmental considerations in humanitarian response undermines the main purposes of humanitarian action: to save lives and reduce vulnerability to disasters and increase resilience. However, positive changes were noted in Early Recovery and Shelter clusters. Environmental considerations were addressed in their consecutive initiatives focusing on debris management and procurement of certified timber from legal and sustainable sources for the construction of transitional shelters.
Four important lessons for improved environmental mainstreaming were identified:
- The earlier, the better: provision and deployment of dedicated resources at the early stages of a response pays its dividend throughout the response cycle. The timely funding and carrying out of rapid environmental assessments along with the deployment of environmental field advisors and dedicated UNEP presence are identified as good practices.
- Commitment to continuous improvement: undertaking and applying lessons from previous disasters were applied by partners and environmental experts, including the use of existing environmental mainstreaming tools and best practices.
- Need for long term vision: environmental considerations in the response phase should be linked to broader disaster risk reduction and environmental sustainability objectives. This will help to bridge the gap between humanitarian and development phases. The early recovery cluster can serve as a good starting and entry point for this.
- Mainstream environment into humanitarian financing: the Emergency Response Relief Fund for Haiti provided initial funding for the integration of environmental concerns into emergency relief response, however, a number of key clusters lacked the resources to employ dedicated environment expertise.
The disaster profile of Haiti provides, unfortunately, ample opportunity to continuously improve the performance of environmental mainstreaming in humanitarian response plans. It is hoped that this study contributes to the ultimate aim of both humanitarian and development actors to increase the resilience of the Haitian people to withstand the shocks they will continue to face, especially in the face of climate change.
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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