Canadian NGOs support new international humanitarian aid standards

The Handbook contains both core and minimum standards for humanitarian response in disaster situations.

June 29, 2011

June 29, 2011 – OTTAWA, ON –Minimum standards for the protection, safety and dignity of people in disaster situations are set out in a new 2011 edition of the SPHERE Handbook. The Handbook, consisting of the most widely-known and internationally-recognized set of standards for humanitarian response, has been endorsed by Canadianaid agencies involved in disaster relief work.

“The SPHERE standards are the benchmark for ensuring effective and fair humanitarian assistance for people in need around the world,” says Mike Weickert of World Vision Canada.  “The minimum standards in key areas – food, water, shelter and health care – have all been revised and updated to reflect the lessons that have been learned in responding to disasters around the world.”

The Handbook contains both core and minimum standards for humanitarian response in disaster situations.  The core standards cover the planning and implementation phases. The minimum standards deal with how humanitarian agencies should set out to provide four key elements of disaster response: water and sanitation; food security and nutrition; shelter and non-food items; and health.  All of these standards have been revised based on practices proven to be effective in previous disaster responses.

A key element of the Handbook is the Humanitarian Charter. It describes core principles that should govern humanitarian action and asserts the right of disaster-affected populations to life with dignity, protection and assistance. For the new edition, the Humanitarian Charter has been completely re-written and has stronger links to the standards.

The 2011 edition also includes a new chapter on Protection Principles.  It underscores that the protection and safety of populations affected by disaster or armed conflict is a vital part of humanitarian response. It also addresses emerging issues like climate change, disaster risk reduction, early recovery of services and livelihoods, cash transfers and civil-military relations.

“The addition of a chapter on protection is significant,” says Mark Fried of Oxfam Canada. “It obliges agencies like ours to address people’s safety, beyond providing core assistance. For example, where people are vulnerable to sexual violence we must offer safe shelter. If women are routinely attacked while seeking firewood, we must offer alternative fuel or pre-cooked rations.” 

More than 600 experts from over 300 organizations in 20 countries, including Canadian humanitarian groups from the Policy and Advocacy Group for Emergency Relief (PAGER), provided input into the revision of the Handbook.  The PAGER Group is made up of some of Canada’s largest non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including World Vision Canada, Oxfam, CARE and Centre d'étude et de coopération internationale (CECI).

“Working with our colleagues from other Canadian NGOs, CECI is pleased to have contributed to efforts to revise and update the SPHERE Handbook,” says Carine Guidicelli of CECI.  “The Handbook is a lifeline for aid workers to assess, plan, implement and evaluate their response to any humanitarian emergency.”

The Sphere Project was launched by a group of humanitarian non-governmental organizations in 1997. Since its first trial edition in 1998, the Sphere Handbook has been translated into more than 40 languages.

To download a PDF or a CD version of the Handbook as well as additional resources, please visit the Sphere Project online press room:

Media Contacts:

Bob Neufeld                                                                                
World Vision Canada                                                            
905-565-6200, ext.3265 (Office)                                     
647-622-2045 (Cell)                                                                                                          514-572-3558(Cell)

Katia Gianneschi
Oxfam  Canada
613-231-5561 (Office)

Carine Guidicelli
514-875-9911, ext.225 (Office)