East Africa: Sphere Standards at Work in the Field

Debbie DeVoe, CRS’ regional information officer for East Africa, is currently attending Sphere training in Nairobi, Kenya. She describes a field visit in this post.

Sphere training

More than 500 Maasai people benefit from the 16,000-liter water tank that supports both domestic use and livestock watering. Photo by Debbie DeVoe/CRS.

Yesterday it was time to apply our Sphere training in the field. Ideally we would have visited an emergency response site, but instead we visited a water development project. This decision helped to avoid raising expectations or creating a disruption at a camp for Kenyans displaced earlier in the year by post-election violence.

We traveled in buses three hours south to a community near Kijiado. This semi-arid region is populated primarily by the Maasai—a nomadic ethnic group that herds cattle, sheep and goats as their primary source of food and income.

Maasai settlements are typically quite sparse, with widely dispersed homesteads consisting of a few mud huts for sleeping and cooking and some fenced areas to protect livestock at night. The rocky terrain is similarly bare, dotted with family compounds, thorny acacia trees, browsing herds of livestock and the occasional zebra, gazelle or ostrich.

Sphere training

Training participants put the Sphere manual to work in the field. Photo by Debbie DeVoe/CRS.

Soon after arriving at the project site, we realized how much easier it is to assess quantitative than qualitative indicators. For example, the water system—which taps a protected spring—easily provides sufficient amounts of water for both domestic and livestock use except in the driest season. The queue at the tap was short during our visit, and decent water flows allow for relatively fast filling of containers.

Qualitative measures were another story, sparking considerable debate:

– Sphere standards suggest that water sources in an emergency setting be within 500 meters of homes. Here, some people trekked as far as seven kilometers to access the water source—a seemingly far distance, but not necessarily for a pastoralist community used to long walks.

– The local water committee has 11 female members and three male members, two of which serve as the chair and vice chair. Is the committee gender balanced?

– In rocky, hilly terrain, what measures should be taken to accommodate the needs of vulnerable people such as the elderly, those with disabilities or those living with HIV, particularly in light of constrained financial resources and minimal development across the region?

Our time in the field made it exceedingly clear how important it is to regularly consult with and encourage the participation of beneficiaries. They are the ones who best know their needs and can advise on the most productive use of funds. We also recognized again how the Sphere standards serve as valuable guidelines that can be used flexibly to design the most effective programs based on unique situations.

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