The Sidelined Cross-Cutting Issue: Mainstreaming Environment into the Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) Cluster
Abstract: Addressing key environmental concerns during humanitarian assistance is critical to prevent additional hazards, reduce risks, and to not further increase the vulnerability of disaster-affected populations. However, the environment remains an underappreciated cross-cutting issue within the humanitarian sector and efforts to systematically integrate environmental concerns into humanitarian assistance as well as to reduce its environmental impacts are quite limited. The purpose of this research is to analyze the current state of environmental mainstreaming in humanitarian assistance, and to identify the main barriers hindering the systematic integration of environmental concerns. This thesis specifically focuses on the WASH Cluster due to the intrinsic link between WASH and the environment. Having conducted 12 semi-structured interviews with various WASH practitioners at different levels, it is concluded that the key challenge to environmental mainstreaming across the WASH Cluster does not solely lie in the details of the mainstreaming process itself. Instead, the process is stuck at the fundamental step of prioritization, needed to initiate and drive forward the overall environmental mainstreaming process. Without more top-down directive and greater prioritization of environmental concerns by the Cluster Lead Agency, environmental mainstreaming is unlikely to progress much further within the WASH Cluster’s humanitarian assistance. Other challenges for environmental mainstreaming include a lack of donor support for environmental concerns, no common environmental mainstreaming strategy, the division between the humanitarian and development sector, too few technical experts with environmental know-how, and a general absence of monitoring and evaluation of environmental impacts. When comparing the results of this research with previous findings, it appears that the state of environmental mainstreaming within the humanitarian sector has changed very little over the past decade. A clear commitment to environmental concerns, greater involvement of technical expertise and capacity development for staff at all levels is needed to bring about the change associated with environmental mainstreaming.
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