Global Strategic Advisory Group

Greening the humanitarian shelter and settlements response

 

Climate and weather-related extreme events are increasingly affecting and uprooting people, forcing them to leave their homes in search of refuge. According to IDMC, more than 30 million people were estimated to be newly displaced due to disasters in 2020.  The vast majority of the displacement occurred as a result of weather-related events. There is also a growing body of evidence showing the possible links between conflict and environment, and how climate change is indirectly increasing the risk of conflict by exacerbating social, economic and environmental factors. 

 

Countries already affected by humanitarian situations are often disproportionately impacted by climate change events. Millions of women, men, girls and boys have already lost everything they own, including their houses, due to weather-related disasters. It is expected that this number will continue to increase to over 200 million people per year by 2050. Safe and adequate shelter is a priority for people, not only for protection against hazards and elements of nature, but also to recover and rebuild their lives after traumatic events.

Humanitarian shelter and settlement actors are aware of their important role in responding to, mitigating and preventing the impact of weather-related hazards on lives and livelihoods. Their interventions include deciding on the location of a settlement, to choosing the materials used for shelters, to what household items are provided. Shelter actors have been working closely with authorities and local civil society organizations for decades on disaster preparedness and risk reduction, as well as improving the coordination of disaster-related responses. They have contributed to the increased calls of countries, most affected by the consequences of climate change, to rethink how humanitarians provide life-saving activities, and it is crucial we respect these demands. Important lessons can be learned from Vanuatu, a country comprised of 80 islands in the Pacific Ocean, which has been affected by numerous natural hazards over the years. After the Tropical Cyclone Harold in 2020, authorities and the Vanuatu Red Cross Society developed guidance and an environmental checklist for humanitarian actors to apply.

Simultaneously, humanitarian agencies witness first-hand how climate change can be a stress multiplier by exacerbating vulnerability to multiple hazards, in addition to the direct impacts of 

climate-related extreme events. In North-West Syria for example, over 400 internally displaced sites were affected by floods at the beginning of 2021 and over 500,000 people were directly impacted.

Shelter actors are acutely aware of the potentially significant environmental impact of their decisions when they do not consider the short- and long-term environmental consequences. Understanding these consequences is at the core of making the ‘do-no-harm’ principle operational.

Global Shelter Cluster (GSC) partners have been working at ‘greening’ their response and minimizing the environmental impact of their interventions through different actions. They have been ramping up preparedness work with the countries most affected by climate change. Humanitarian shelter organizations have been formalizing their policies on climate change, the environment and humanitarian assistance. These efforts are taking place through individual engagements but also collectives ones, such as the United Nations’ “Greening the Blue”, Interaction’s Climate Compact and Réseau Environnement Humanitaire’s Statement of Commitment on Climate by Humanitarian Organizations. Most recently, IFRC and ICRC invited humanitarian actors to sign the Climate and Environment Charter for Humanitarian Organizations. The Charter is based on seven commitments to preserve humanitarian aid, while mitigating the climate and environmental impacts of their operations. There is no lack of data, calls to action and tools. One thing is clear – the climate emergency is real and we know what will happen if we do not take the environment and climate change mitigation factors into account: more people will need shelter assistance.

Greater collective and individual efforts are needed to support action where the already overstretched humanitarian system is currently responding to increased shelter needs from climate-related disasters. Within the Global Shelter Cluster, the Environment Community of Practice (CoP) has been developing resources and tools to support shelter practitioners in greening their responses, including the Environmental Checklist for Shelter Response and the recent Shelter Methodology for the Assessment of Carbon (SMAC) tool. The European Union DG ECHO Enhanced Response Capacity Fund is supporting a Global Shelter Cluster (GSC) initiative to mobilize collective efforts towards a greener and climate smart humanitarian shelter and settlements response. The project will enable shelter actors to green specifications of critical shelter and non-food items and support countries to implement operations that are climate smart.

The GSC calls on all partners to strengthen their commitments to green their responses and integrate environmental mitigation throughout project cycles. It also encourages humanitarian shelter organizations to engage in the Environment CoP work for new and innovative thinking and collective approaches. In addition, the GSC urges donors to ensure sufficient funding is available to humanitarian shelter and settlements practitioners to continue to invest in disaster preparedness and mitigation work, while increasing the funding for life-saving aid. It’s time to act!