New 'Gold Standards' for Humanitarian Assistance Launched

  • 19 April 2011

A revised edition of the Sphere Handbook, the Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response, was launched last week in dozens of countries.

“The Sphere Standards have become the gold standard for humanitarian assistance,” said the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos at the launch of the Sphere Handbook 2011 edition in New York City. The English version of the Handbook was released in about a dozen countries on 14 April. It establishes minimum standards for life-saving activities which include water and sanitation, food, shelter and health.

The Sphere project is a unique voluntary initiative born in 1997 as part of common commitment to quality and accountability by humanitarian actors. The 2011 edition of the handbook has been completely rewritten and incorporates a new chapter on the protection and safety of populations affected by disaster or conflict. Over 650 experts from 300 organizations around the world participated in updating the handbook.

“My first realization on the impact of the SPHERE standards was when I was being SPHERE trained,” said Jemilah Mahmood, Chief of UNFPA’s Humanitarian Response Branch, who spoke at the launch event in New York, along with Ms. Amos and Rick Barton, United States Representative to the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. “I remember one of the exercises vividly where we were given many different types of containers and access to one tap and were asked to fill what would be the minimum standard of water needs for a family.”

According to Ms. Mahmood humanitarian workers must still challenge themselves in the way these standards can be used. For her, the voices of affected populations should be heard when establishing benchmarks. “I want us to start to think that information must be regarded as a form of humanitarian assistance in its own right – not as some arbitrary add-on,” she explained.

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