Environment & Humanitarian Action Network - Terms of Reference - Revised 30 October 2018

Manual and Guideline
Originally published


Strategic vision

The quality, effectiveness and long-term outcomes of humanitarian action are improved by ensuring that lifesaving and life-sustaining actions are delivered in an environmentally responsible manner. This will enhance populations’ resilience and security, minimize the chance of recurring crises and bridge the perceived humanitarian-development gap by reducingaid dependency through saving livelihoods.

Mission statement

To maximize outcomes of humanitarian action by avoiding, minimising, or mitigating environmental impacts and promoting environmentally responsible humanitarian programming through collaboration and cooperation on:

  • Advancing humanitarian policy and practice
  • Communication & joint advocacy
  • Joint programming: Support for on-going humanitarian operations and promotion of knowledge management, training and the development of environmental standards, guidelines and tools for humanitarian action


Disasters and conflicts, as well as relief and recovery operations, impact the environment in ways that threaten human life, health, livelihoods and security. Failure to address these risks can undermine the relief process, causing additional loss of life, displacement, aid dependency and increased vulnerability. Increasingly, disaster managers and humanitarian workers recognize the need to ensure that relief and recovery efforts contribute to building affected populations’ resilience and self-sufficiency. This can be done without threatening the environment in ways that impair its ability to provide the functions and ecosystem services that support and sustain human populations.

Policy reform agendas including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Paris Climate Agreement, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Agenda for Humanity represent an entry point for collaborative action between environmental and humanitarian actors. The IASC Real Time Evaluations found that cross-cutting issues, including the environment, are often neglected and not systematically integrated into humanitarian responses. Yet, it is clearly understood that their integration can improve the quality of humanitarian assistance. Related strategies and tools ensure sustained and/or improved environmental health and the availability of natural resources critical to food, water, and energy security, local livelihoods and community resilience. It is therefore important to understand the various links between humanitarian action and the natural environment, the perceived challenges, as well as the potential opportunities to develop strategies and institutionalize mechanisms that enable principled and environmentally responsible relief and recovery. Increased emphasis on preparedness and prevention can move the frontiers of crisis response from short term stability to long-term resilience, based on sound natural resource management and the “do no harm” principle.

Several significant steps have already been taken in support of more environmentally sound humanitarian action. Networks such as the Environment Management Group prioritizing ‘Environment in Humanitarian Action’ and ‘The Global Plan of Action for Sustainable Energy Solutions in Situations of Displacement’; tools (eg. the Flash Environmental Assessment Tool, environment marker) and standards (eg. Sphere) have been put in place, while piloted bottom-up solutions have proven the cost-effectiveness of integrating environment in humanitarian response. At the same time, a change of mindset is needed to move from pilot work to standard practice. Setting up short-term solutions in a narrow humanitarian framework is not sufficient: whereas humanitarian operations respond immediately, their time-span can be long term, exemplified by the average years of displacement of a person being 17 years.


• Provide expertise and the latest information on integrating environmental considerations in humanitarian action;

• Apply and advocate for best practices in recognizing, managing and rewarding environmental stewardship in humanitarian decision-making;

• Coordinate and mainstream environment initiatives within the humanitarian system

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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