News | 02 May, 2023

Guidance on Nature-based Solutions in humanitarian action launched in collaboration with Sphere

We are delighted to announce the launch of the ‘A Sphere Unpacked Guide: Nature-based Solutions for Climate Resilience in Humanitarian Contexts’ developed in partnership between SphereIFRCIUCN and the FEBA, and with the support of SOMN.


In many places, the increasing severity and frequency of climate-related disasters exacerbate underlying risks, stoke conflict, and undermine humanitarian and development gains.


Nature-based solutions (NbS) offer a framework to remedy these complex dynamics. It is critical that humanitarian aid and development are transformed to better integrate NbS and environmental safeguarding as a core component and strategy.

IUCN, in its role as the FEBA Secretariat, and IFRC, in partnership with Sphere and the NbS in Humanitarian Contexts Working Group, have launched the ‘Nature-based Solutions for Climate Resilience in Humanitarian Contexts – A Sphere Unpacked Guide’.  

Through this groundbreaking collaboration, members of the environment, development and humanitarian sectors have come together to raise awareness about the role that nature-based solutions (NbS) can play in crisis-affected contexts and to develop practical guidance to those interested in implementing NbS in humanitarian settings.

  • IFRC is the world’s largest humanitarian network with 192 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and around 14 million volunteers
  • IUCN is a membership Union uniquely composed of more than 1,400 Member governments and civil society organizations and some 15,000 experts.
  • The NbS in Humanitarian Contexts Working Group convenes stakeholders from across the Friends of Ecosystem-based Adaptation (FEBA), the Environment and Humanitarian Action Network (EHAN) and the Partnership for Environment and Disaster Risk Reduction (PEDRR) networks.
  • The Sphere Standards are the most widely recognized and utilized humanitarian standards across the globe. They are used to improve the quality and accountability of the humanitarian sector, used as reference tools by humanitarian agencies, advocacy groups, governments, and donors. The Sphere Handbook has been field-tested over twenty years and is regularly updated to ensure it remains fit for purpose in a changing world.

Growing disaster risk, driven in part by large-scale environmental degradation, threatens to exceed the humanitarian sector’s capacity to respond in the coming decades. With over 20 million people a year displaced by climate-related natural hazards there it is imperative to advance approaches to reducing risk and save lives. The environment in which people live and work is essential for their health, well-being, and recovery from crisis, and environmental degradation exacerbates disaster risk and undermines humanitarian and development gains. Yet it is often overlooked within humanitarian crises.

Nature-based Solutions (NbS) provide for human wellbeing and protecting the environment. Integrating an NbS framework in humanitarian action can build immediate and long-term resilience for those affected by crises while safeguarding the livelihoods and ecosystems they depend upon. The Unpacked Guide facilitates this integration by highlighting and building upon the success of NbS in disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. 

Developed in partnership with Sphere, The Unpacked Guide was informed by the contributions of two Sphere focal point stakeholder roundtables and by the contributions of a broad range of experts across the FEBA, PEDRR and EHAN networks.

The Unpacked Guide emphasises the value and co-benefits of NbS for resilience-building in humanitarian contexts and provides practical guidance for using the Sphere standards when implementing NbS to address societal challenges in humanitarian action. It explores links between NbS and Sphere’s four technical chapters – water, sanitation and hygiene; food security and nutrition; shelter and settlements; and health – while stressing the cross-cutting nature of NbS and its contribution to restoring, protecting and fulfilling human rights, dignity, and agency. The Unpacked Guide also provides useful tools and resources and illustrative case studies. 

The Unpacked Guide highlights how coastal ecosystems, including mangroves, can provide benefits in the context of humanitarian action. The contribution of mangroves to climate change adaptation, disaster risk reduction, and sustainable development is clear. Mangrove ecosystems alone are estimated to provide over US$ 65 billion in flood protection benefits and safeguard 15 million people against flooding across the world every year (Menéndez et al 2020). More generally, it is estimated that the protection of coastal ecosystems can benefit upwards of 500 million people globally, bringing benefits of over $100 billion per year (Seddon et al 2021). Among these benefits, mangroves and coastal ecosystems can help to build the resilience of crisis-affected communities and play an important role in prevention, mitigation, preparedness and recovery activities.

The Unpacked Guide is designed for humanitarian practitioners working in diverse contexts, such as protracted crises, post-acute shock disaster contexts, or refugee or internally displaced persons settlements. This transdisciplinary guidance may also be relevant to national headquarters staff and those responsible for interagency coordination and higher-level strategy, and to environmental and recovery practitioners outside of the humanitarian sector. The guide will provide diverse actors with the knowledge and tools to better incorporate NbS into humanitarian action.

The collaborative development of the Unpacked Guide is a crucial step towards transforming humanitarian action through the integration of NbS and environmental safeguarding. In a changing world and a changing climate, it is imperative that the potential of NbS to contribute to humanitarian response is better understood, funded, and implemented on the ground in crisis-affected contexts where it is needed most to improve ecosystem health and human well-being.

The Sphere Nature-based Solutions for Climate Resilience in Humanitarian Action Unpacked Guide can be found here.

Learn more about the Nature-based Solutions in Humanitarian Contexts Working group here.

About FEBA:

Friends of EbA (FEBA) is a global collaborative network of 100+ agencies and organizations with a shared interest in advancing awareness, understanding and uptake of nature-based solutions in adaptation and resilience efforts and planning processes around the world. FEBA prioritizes collaboration and knowledge sharing across organizations and sectors, convening the global adaptation community around expert working groups, joint publications, technical workshops, and high-level events, with the belief that by working together we can accelerate global efforts on nature and adaptation. IUCN Serves as the FEBA Secretariat.

About Save Our Mangroves Now:

The Save Our Mangroves Now! Initiative of the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), IUCN and WWF, in order to enhance the recognition of mangroves and coastal ecosystems for disaster risk reduction towards the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14, and in order to ensure environmental safeguarding of mangrove ecosystems in post-disaster and humanitarian contexts, has supported the production of this Sphere guide throughout its development. This work advances the objectives of Save Our Mangroves Now to influence international agendas for the protection, restoration and sustainable management of mangrove ecosystems, while also integrating recognition of mangrove ecosystems into international partnerships of the Friends of Ecosystem Based Adaptation, the Environment and Humanitarian Action Network, the Partnership for Environment and Disaster Risk Reduction.