UN Environment/OCHA Joint Unit (JEU)


Membership Tier: Associate

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) responds to environmental emergencies by coordinating international efforts and mobilizing partners to support countries that have requested assistance. The UN Environment/OCHA Joint Unit (JEU), housed within OCHA’s Emergency Services Branch, helps Member States to prepare for and respond to environmental emergencies. The JEU focuses on three mutually reinforcing priority areas:

  1. Response: In the first hours after an environmental emergency, the JEU can mobilize experts and equipment, such as mobile laboratories, to the affected area;
  2. Preparedness: The JEU raises awareness among communities, disaster responders, governments and industries on the impacts of environmental emergencies and the presence of hazardous materials that may be released during a disaster; and
  3. Environment in Humanitarian Action: The JEU works to promote that environmental issues are an integral part of all elements of humanitarian response, including across the humanitarian programme cycle.

In January 2016, UNHCR and the JEU jointly organized a coordination workshop aiming to identify, assess and mitigate environmental consequences of this crisis. The JEU also acts as a strong advocate of preparedness actions and mainstreaming environment into humanitarian action. At its biennial Environmental Emergencies Forum in 2015, the JEU, together with the Green Cross International, awarded environmental heroes with the Green Star Awards. In the “Environment and Humanitarian Action” category the award was given to the Women’s Refugees Commission (WRC) for putting cooking fuel on the humanitarian agenda through its SAFE Initiative.

Why the JEU Joined the SAFE Humanitarian Working Group  

The environment is fundamental to humanitarian action for two reasons: First, environmental issues are often underlying and contributing factors to humanitarian crises. For example, scarce natural resources can lead to conflict. Second, humanitarian crises can have negative effects on the environment and exacerbate risk and vulnerability if managed inadequately or addressed too late. At the same time, managing environment well is a key entry point for engaging with affected communities, as the environment will always be intrinsically linked to the local context. Addressing environmental impacts of humanitarian action is a way for humanitarians to support a locally led response and to encourage the move from relief to development. 

OCHA’s JEU joined the SAFE Humanitarian Working Group because we believe our expertise in area of preparedness and response to environmental emergencies and of environment and humanitarian action can contribute to SAFE’s efforts to integrate energy into humanitarian action. In 2015 the JEU undertook several case studies on environment and humanitarian action, including examination of energy in humanitarian actions. The case studies indicated that there are currently untapped opportunities in Afghanistan to implement the SAFE initiative, and in Nepal, to link the distribution of home and institutional solar power to relevant cluster strategies. The studies concluded that energy issues should be tackled at a system level, not at project level, to ensure that the widely available materials and tools are applied in consistent manner. In this context, the JEU together with SAFE Humanitarian Working Group is exploring the possibility of establishing a system-wide, IASC reference Group on Environment and Energy.

Emilia Wahlstrom | wahlstrom@un.org

Margherita Fanchiotti | fanchiotti@un.org