UNEP Disasters and Conflicts Latin America and Caribbean Regional Office MID-YEAR ACTIVITY REPORT July 2020

In this issue:

  1. Disasters and Conflicts programme support to the international COVID-19 response
  2. Environmental support to Camp Coordination and Camp Management webinars
  3. First meeting of the Regional Environment and Emergency Preparedness Network
  4. Field trip and activities in Guatemala
  5. Mainstreaming the environment in the humanitarian response to displacement in Brazil
  6. Humanitarian capacity building programme in Venezuela

1. Disasters and Conflicts programme support to the international COVID-19 response

The COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly impacted and transformed priorities in the humanitarian field, stretching resources in already overloaded health systems and often leading to the roll back of environmental standards. But failing to address the environmental dimensions of the crisis and its response would put in peril the core humanitarian principle of “do no harm.”

In this context, UNEP has stepped up to tackle the crisis, emphasising the climate-nature-health nexus at its origin, and the importance of recovery packages embedded in ambitious climate action. The regional Disasters and Conflicts programme also released a policy paper, to highlight UNEP programmes and policy options for the response phase of the emergency in the region, in line with its mandate to work on the environmental dimensions of emergency response.

The paper emphasises three main response services which UNEP can offer in the region:

• The management of healthcare waste in emergencies;

• The mitigation of environmental impacts of the response and also the integration of opportunities to advance environmental benefits through humanitarian action; and

• Integrating the relationship between environment and humanitarian needs in humanitarian response plans.

The regional office has already received an inquiry from Trinidad and Tobago for UNEP support in the management of healthcare waste in the context of the COVID-19 emergency, and Haiti also manifested its interest in UNEP’s support.

In addition, the regional humanitarian officer of UNEP for Latin America and the Caribbean, Dan Stothart, gave a presentation on the environmental aspects of humanitarian action to 45 members of the regional emergency coordination group (REDLAC) on 22nd May. These participants represent more than 25 agencies.

UNEP has also contributed analysis to the COVID-19 annex of the Humanitarian Needs Overview of Central America. HNOs are analysis documents used by response agencies and donors identifying critical needs and locations and issues to prioritise. Facilitating the integration of environment into HNOs facilitates a more integrated approach to responding to critical humanitarian needs and can also influence donor policy and priorities.

Another highlight of the past few months of work within the programme in relation to the pandemic is the production of a special bulletin on the environmental dimensions of the COVID-19 emergency in the region. The piece explored how a number of environmental factors, such as wildfires and poor air quality, have contributed to increase the vulnerability of people in the Latin American and Caribbean region. It also highlighted the specific vulnerabilities of certain populations to coronavirus and its environmental determinants, including indigenous peoples, women and children, populations in situation of human mobility and those living in informal settlements. Lastly, it analysed the environmental impacts of the response measures which have been taken, providing propositions to mitigate negative impacts. The bulletin is shared with UN agencies, humanitarian and environmental agencies and has informed the analysis of other actors such as UNOCC.

2. Environmental support to Camp Coordination and Camp Management webinars

As the humanitarian response to the COVID-19 emergency built up, a Camp Coordination and Camp Management Regional Cluster was organized, with UNEP being invited to join.

Besides weekly meetings in which relevant actors of the region have been exchanging experiences and best practices, the CCCM regional working group developed four webinars on shelter management in the context of COVID-19. Open to the public, the webinars took place every Thursday from 11th June to 2nd July.

The introductory webinar on Camp Coordination and Camp Management which took place on 11th June attracted 494 and featured presentations on general CCCM frameworks, life cycle and types of shelters, gender-based violence prevention, reproductive health, prevention and treatment of HIV in situations of emergency. UN Environment was asked to facilitate a session on the environmental implications of shelter management throughout the shelter life cycle, by setting out the environmental prevention and mitigation measures to implement from conception to closure of a shelter.

The second webinar took place on 18th June on roles and responsibilities in shelters in the COVID-19 context, with 675 participants. On 25th June, the third webinar focused on the norms and design of shelters and its adaptation to COVID-19, with presentations on planning, including choosing the right location for a shelter and physical distancing measures, minimum standards for water and sanitation, protocols of action in the face of suspected COVID-19 cases and how to integrate gender considerations. UNEP also gave a presentation during this webinar, reaching its 521 participants, on best practices for waste management in shelters, especially healthcare waste in the face of COVID-19.

The last webinar of 2nd July gathered 452 attendants and centred on community participation and risk communication, featuring another session led by UNEP on participation with an environmental lens. This presentation discussed the need to include the beneficiaries but also host communities in the key decisions with environmental implications for the shelter, to prevent potential conflicts and tensions as much as possible within the community. It also discussed how the shelter and its activities can benefit the community, and how to avoid generating burdens for the local authorities.

Overall, this series of webinars was attended by participants from 27 countries, 17% being from governmental organisations, 42% from the Red Cross, 22% from the United Nations, 8% from international NGOs, 8% from local NGOs, 2% from academia, 1% from religious organisations, 1% from donor organisations, 1% from the private sector.

Since shelter and camp responses often have a significant environmental impact which have been accentuated with COVID-19 waste, these webinars have been important to influence policies and practice in the region.

3. First meeting of the Regional Environment and Emergency Preparedness Network: a successful launch

The first meeting of the newly created Regional Environment and Emergency Preparedness Network took place on 6th June, gathering 14 representants of environmental ministries from 10 countries of the region including Belize, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Haiti, Honduras, Panama, Peru, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago.

The Network was born out of a recommendation by the inter-sessional meeting of the Forum of Ministers of Environment in 2018, noting that many governments are unaware of UNEP response services, including crisis waste management, dump fire response, agrochemical spill management and the effects of the environmental dimensions of emergencies on crisis-affected people, pointing towards the need for more partnerships in the region.

The goal of the Environment and Emergency Preparedness Network is to raise awareness of response services available, facilitate capacity building for preparedness and risk reduction, create synergies, exchange best practices and avoid duplications by incorporating countries civil protection and disaster management agencies.

The first meeting served to set out the general framework and goals of the Network, and discuss next steps, after reminding the definition of an environmental emergency and its dimension, the challenges facing the region given the increase in such environmental emergencies and the current absence of direct channel to facilitate country capacity building for risk reduction, preparedness and response to the environmental dimensions of emergencies. By the end of the semester, 16 countries had nominated focal point for the Network.

4. Field trip and activities in Guatemala

In February, a field trip to Guatemala was carried out by UN Environment, in the context of the project on addressing the root causes of environmental displacement in the country. The renewed phenomenon of “migrant caravans”, the asylum agreement between Guatemala and the United States, and the development of the Humanitarian Needs Overview have made the project of looking at the environmental causes and impacts of human mobility in Guatemala more and more pertinent.

UN Environment has partnered with the International Organisation on Migration to deliver the project in Guatemala, which will work to raise awareness of the environmental impacts of migration and displacement, as well as the impacts of the humanitarian response to the needs of people on the move. Several meetings with key actors took place, from which emerged reflections, including the importance of waste management in the border municipalities, especially in Tecun Uman and Esquipulas, and the necessity of trainings on good practices for both humanitarian actors and refugees and migrants themselves. UN Environment is now working with IOM to expand the project to the rest of Mesoamerica.

In addition, as part of the same project, UN Environment is developing an E-Learning on Environment and Human Mobility, to be released in 2021, featuring tools for humanitarian actors to use in their response to human mobility events in the region.

5. Mainstreaming the environment in the humanitarian response to displacement in Brazil

In Brazil, the UN Environment / UNHCR environmental field adviser, Fabiano Sartori de Campos, is advising UNHCR on how to strengthen the environmental component of the emergency response to the refugee crisis in Venezuela. Waste management, involving the food supply systems and cooking fuel alternatives, and recycling projects, including UNHCR used materials, are among the top priorities, and eight initiatives have been in development, addressing a range of areas including waste management, reforestation, green jobs, and agriculture.

Projects include initiatives for income generation, professional training, capacity building, and job opportunities for beneficiaries and local governments.

Photo: Fabiano Sartori de Campos

For example, an agricultural and environmental training programme for the Tarau Paru indigenous community in the Pacaraima area was implemented. This is a solution aimed at ensuring nutritional security through agriculture, fish farming, and livestock in a family scale, and trainings will training includes a range of topics such as waste management and composting, and environmental risk reduction especially when it comes to forest fires. During two days of activities, the community committee already received technical guidance to construct a fish tank. These communities were selected since they had expressed a willingness to integrate displaced indigenous Venezuelans, yet needed further support to develop agriculture with low environmental impact to ensure adequate food security for their own people and the new arrivals.

Photo: Fabiano Sartori de Campos
Photo: Fabiano Sartori de Campos

A pilot project to introduce vegetation at the Rondon 2 shelter, in Boa Vista, was also launched. The initiative aims to improve the living conditions and create shaded areas, improve the drainage system and plant mosquito repellent plants in shelters to reduce mosquito-borne disease.

Another project carried out in Brazil has been focusing on green jobs in coordination with UNHCR. The Brazilian government has an ambitious programme called “interiorisation” which aims to relocate Venezuelan refugees and migrants to other parts of Brazil, including a modality by which they are relocated into work opportunities in other Brazilian states. UN Environment and UNHCR worked to identify how people could be lined up with “green jobs” in Brazil, thereby turning the relocation of refugees and migrants into an opportunity to drive environmental management. After mapping economic sectors for “green jobs”, the strategy would be to expand job opportunities for Venezuelan refugees and migrants, while shedding light on more sustainable economic practices, generating a positive environmental impact.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, the influx of refugees and migrants through the city of Pacaraima decreased. Unfortunately, some environmental activities involving the contact of external actors with beneficiaries had to be temporarily suspended as a prevention measure. But the pandemic has also been the occasion to provide important technical guidance on the environmental dimension of the COVID-19 response, especially supporting shelter and water and sanitation actions.

Photo: Fabiano Sartori de Campos

6. Humanitarian capacity building programme in Venezuela

From 18th June to 2nd July, UNEP led a humanitarian capacity building programme for humanitarian actors in Venezuela. Initially meant to be in-person, the limitations imposed by the reality of COVID-19 meant that it was necessary to move the programme to a virtual format. Adjustments were made to make the sessions as interactive and dynamic as possible, avoiding the standard webinar approach.

The goal of this capacity building programme was to raise awareness and build technical expertise on the environmental dimensions of humanitarian planning and response in Venezuela, so that humanitarian actors across clusters can identify how environmental issues drive humanitarian need in the Venezuelan context and reduce the environmental impact of humanitarian response. The different sessions served to exchange best practices and tools to mitigate environmental impacts and better analyse environmental needs in humanitarian operations.

A coursework was developed on environment in humanitarian action, composed of five different modules respectively introducing the main concepts and setting the context, reminding the humanitarian cluster architecture and the environmental aspects within the humanitarian programme cycle, diving into environment in humanitarian action concepts and tools, exposing and discussing the environmental situation of Venezuela, and finishing with a case study to provide an exercise for participants.

A total of five sessions were carried out, gathering humanitarian actors from various clusters such as health, nutrition, education, water, sanitation and hygiene, shelter, food security, protection, and logistics:

- On 18th June, the first session took place with the coordinators of the different humanitarian sectors responding in Venezuela;

- On 19th June, a session was developed for agencies present in Zulia, Trujillo, Lara and Falcon states, with 11 participants;

- On 23rd June, a session was developed for agencies based in Amazonas, Bolivar, Anzoátegui, Monagas, Delta Amacuro and Sucre states, which attracted 36 participants across 18 organisations;

- On 30th June, agencies implementing response activities in the states around Caracas joined a session which gathered 18 participants;

- On 2nd July, a final plenary session for the entire intersectorial group and field teams was developed to present group work and identify next steps.40 people participated in the session.

Thank you for your interest! - The UNEP Disasters and Conflicts LAC team