(Photo: David Ohana/AVMU)
UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos receives a copy of the Sphere Handbook 2011 edition from Sphere Board member Gillian Dunn.
“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.
From the United States to India to South Africa to Pakistan, and from Australia to Kenya to Switzerland the Sphere Handbook: Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response was launched in nearly 30 venues worldwide.
“We need to better demonstrate our accountability to affected populations and donors alike,” said Amos. “If we champion the rights of those in need, then our work needs to be able to withstand close scrutiny. [The Sphere] standards provide a minimum benchmark we should all strive to uphold”, she added.
“With this updated edition, Sphere remains at the forefront of thinking on accountability,” said Matthias Schmale, Under Secretary General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies at the Handbook launch in Geneva.
Schmale stressed the value of the Sphere minimum standards as “key input for dialogue with new actors in humanitarian response who are not necessarily driven by the humanitarian imperative, such as the military and the private sector”. “We are committed to applying them as best as we can, and urge all other humanitarian actors to do likewise for the benefit of vulnerable people in need of support,” he added.
Ton van Zutphen, Chair of the Sphere Project Board and Emergency Response Director at World Vision International, told participants at the Geneva launch about his recent experience in Haiti, where in the aftermath of the earthquake tens of thousands of people were engaged to do humanitarian work.
“I have just come back from Haiti, where I have been involved with a number of training sessions on Sphere standards,” said van Zutphen. “It was a real pleasure to see how eager these men and women were to be informed” about how to undertake humanitarian response “in a more accountable and transparent way, and also to achieve better quality.”
Van Zutphen highlighted the fact that the revision of the Sphere Handbook was a wide collaborative and consultative process. “I remain confident that with this new edition, we are providing an important service to a growing group of practitioners who wish to improve the quality of their work in emergency responses,” he affirmed.
“The revision of the Handbook is timely as the humanitarian landscape is changing fast,” said in Jorge Nuño Mayer, Secretary General of Caritas Europa. Speaking in Brussels, Nuño Mayer pointed out that “humanitarian aid and its underlying principles of independence, non-discrimination and impartiality – as stipulated in the Sphere Humanitarian Charter – are more and more threatened and undermined by comprehensive political and security approaches to crisis and disasters.”
“Sphere is normative for Caritas and the humanitarian community and marks a dramatic improvement in the standard of humanitarian responses over the last 10-15 years,” Nuño Mayer said. “From now on, the challenge will be to make active use of the learning which has been so widely shared in the sector and incorporated into this Handbook and to stay firm on the humanitarian principles, which guide and underpin our approach,” he added.
Additional language versions to follow
The launch of the Arabic, French, Spanish, Russian and German versions of the Handbook is scheduled for 23 June 2011 or the following week. A tentative list of launch events can be consulted here. Please contact the Sphere secretariat if your organization is interested in hosting a launch event in your country.
Agreements to have the Sphere Handbook translated into other languages are being worked out. It is foreseen that it will be available in Portuguese, Hindi and Bahasa among other languages.
What's new in the 2011 edition?
The Sphere Handbook establishes shared principles and a set of universally acknowledged minimum standards in four life-saving areas of humanitarian response: water and sanitation, food, shelter and healthcare.
The cornerstone of the Handbook is the Humanitarian Charter, which describes core principles that govern humanitarian action and asserts the right of populations to life with dignity, protection and assistance. The minimum standards are a compilation of best practice in this sector and a practical expression of these core principles.
In the 2011 edition, the Humanitarian Charter has been completely re-written, while chapters on minimum standards have been significantly restructured.
This edition incorporates a new chapter on the protection and safety of affected populations. It considers emerging issues like climate change, disaster risk reduction, disasters in urban settings, and education as well as early recovery of services, livelihoods and governance capacity of affected communities. Understanding and supporting local responses to disaster is a priority reflected in the whole Handbook, as is reinforcing the capacity of local actors.
The extensive revision that led to the 2011 edition involved more than 650 experts from over 300 organizations from the humanitarian sector, including several United Nations agencies.
The Sphere Handbook was created by a group of humanitarian non-governmental organizations and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. Since its first trial edition in 1998, it has been translated into more than 20 languages, becoming the most widely known and internationally recognized set of standards for humanitarian response.