Sphere Project Sets Humanitarian Aid Standards

Debbie DeVoe, CRS’ regional information officer for East Africa, is currently attending a Sphere training in Nairobi, Kenya. She briefly explains the project in this post.

After the Rwandan genocide of 1994 resulted in approximately 1,000,000 deaths in 100 days, the aid industry took pause. Many agencies reassessed how they were implementing activities. The need for more universal standards of response to prevent additional tragedy also became chillingly clear.

Kenya vouchers

Participation of affected communities is a core Sphere standard to be aimed for in all response activities. Here CRS’ emergency shelter advisor Isaac Boyd works with displaced Kenyans to demark temporary shelter locations. Photo by Debbie DeVoe/CRS.

Launched in 1997, the Sphere Project introduced a core set of minimum standards for disaster assistance, as well as a framework for increasing agency accountability. These minimum standards—developed from the contributions of more than 400 organizations, including Catholic Relief Services, in 80 countries—now offer universal guidelines for water and sanitation, food, shelter and health interventions during emergencies.

A key aspect of the Sphere standards is the recognition that every emergency context is different. Local factors, such as climate, cultural and religious practices, or even how food is cooked, can make realization of all of the standards and corresponding indicators (or measurements) unattainable. For example, communities in arid areas like Darfur and eastern Chad will typically require less water than populations used to high rainfall or with close, easy access to a water source.

By providing standards to strive toward while acknowledging that each situation will demand a unique response, the Sphere Project and supporting agencies are helping to improve the quality of services provided to those in need.

– Debbie DeVoe

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