Environmental Emergencies Section
The Environmental Emergencies Section (EES) is the United Nations mechanism to mobilise and
coordinate international assistance to countries facing environmental emergencies and natural disasters with significant environmental impacts. It is a collaborative arrangement between OCHA and UNEP.
The section focuses, in particular, on identifying and addressing the most urgent and life-threatening environmental aspects of disasters such as chemical and oil spills, floods, forest fires, hurricanes, earthquakes, complex emergencies and other crises with potentially significant risks to human life, welfare and the environment. EES also supports response preparedness by helping countries to increase their environmental emergency response capacity, and provides secretariat support to the global Environmental Emergencies Partnership.
- Mobilise and coordinate timely emergency assistance to countries facing environmental emergencies and natural disasters with significant environmental impacts
- Share environmental emergencies information and expertise for improved environmental emergencies management
- Expand the Environmental Emergencies Partnership by engaging stakeholders in a range of collaborative activities
- Provide training for environmental emergencies preparedness and response to facilitate capacity-building and awareness-raising
- Integrate an environmental perspective into the response to disasters
In 2005, EES responded to requests for assistance in connection with disasters including: flooding in Guyana, potential risks of a dam break in Cameroon, Hurricane Stan in Guatemala and the South Asia earthquake. This was achieved primarily by ensuring the presence of environmental experts on UNDAC missions to conduct rapid environmental assessments, and mobilising experts and resources to address their findings wherever required. For example, the section supported emergency response in Pakistan by ensuring rapid environmental assessments through UNDAC teams, and mobilizing additional experts to act on waste management, slope instability issues and threats to the natural resource base.
EES organised a major meeting of the international Advisory Group on Environmental Emergencies (AGEE). This provided a forum for governments and experts to share and discuss lessons learned, good practices and develop options to strengthen response.
Information sharing was enhanced in the global Environmental Emergencies Partnership, for which the EES provides a secretariat, through an electronic newsletter and activities including an exercise to learn lessons from environmental aspects of the Indian Ocean earthquake-tsunami. A range of countries and organisations were engaged in partnership activities, including Iran and Yemen, UNV, UNOSAT and ISDR, and NGOs including the Benfield Hazard Research Center.
Two major exercises to ensure the sharing of good practice and practical lessons learned were undertaken in 2005. The most significant was the post-tsunami lessons learned exercise, noted above. This led to a number of specific follow-up activities, including a new project to develop a ‘flash environmental assessment tool’. The second was integrated into a capacity building mission in Iran, during which lessons from other countries in the region were shared and discussed. EES has recognised that improvements to its website would facilitate greater sharing of good practice and lessons learned.
Through partnership with a Canadian academic institution, a strategy was developed to engage additional private sector corporations, offering an informal, flexible and simple way for stakeholders to engage with the UN in reducing the risks from environmental emergencies.
EES provided training for environmental emergency preparedness and response through, for example, the multi-stakeholder environmental emergencies capacity building workshop in Iran. EES also delivered the environmental component of the UNDAC training course in Singapore, and organized a major multi-stakeholder workshop for January 2006.
Other noteworthy activities included responding to AGEE guidance to strengthen further EES’s ability to respond to disasters. The section undertook activities to enhance methodologies for identifying environmental risks from disasters and increase the number of experts who can be deployed in response to government requests for assistance. EES also undertook activities to strengthen further OCHAUNEP collaboration in the response to environmental emergencies.
EES ensured that official requests for assistance from countries facing environmental emergencies were addressed promptly. Specifically, countries received a response to a request from assistance within a day in the event of an emergency, and in less than five to seven business days where the request was for non-emergency related assistance. An area for improvement is to make additional efforts to ensure a clear division of labour between UNEP and OCHA, such that all requests related to environmental emergency response are immediately sent to EES. This would further enhance response speed and effectiveness.
EES ensured that environmental risks were identified during the initial disaster response and that where appropriate, additional experts were mobilized to address assessment findings. This helped to ensure that environmental issues were reflected in humanitarian response. To illustrate, during the response to the South Asia earthquake, the section ensured the presence of an expert to conduct environmental assessments on the first UNDAC team within one day of the disaster. This allowed EES to deploy additional experts to actually address the findings of the assessment within approximately three weeks, well within the initial response phase. A potential weakness is the insufficient number of environmental experts available for rapid deployment, particularly in the face of concurrent multi-country disasters.
A major capacity building exercise was carried out in collaboration with partner organisations in Tehran, which is expected to increase country-level capacity to deal with environmental disasters. It raised awareness of EES capacity building potential, which resulted in three additional requests for support in 2006. Based on this exercise, EES also identified, with partners, that a better initial assessment of country needs at strategic, managerial and operational levels is required to improve overall mission effectiveness. A new methodology to this end needs to be developed.
Eight new stakeholders were engaged in Environmental Emergencies Partnership activities, broadening the range of skills and expertise that EES can call upon to reduce the risk of environmental emergencies. EES underestimated the difficulty in involving private sector stakeholders and overestimated the benefits of doing so when expertise can be more readily drawn by focusing on relations with key donor governments familiar with and supportive of EES activities.