27th International Conference
of the Red Cross and Red Crescent



Organisers : Danish Red Cross and International Federation

Panel: Peter Walker, Disaster Policy Director International Federation;Nan Buzard, Sphere Project Manager; Birte Hald, Head of Relief, Danish Red Cross; Water Cotte, National Relief Director, Colombian Red Cross; Patrick Howard, International Federation and Danish Red Cross and Jean Ayoub, Disaster Response Director, International Federation.

A brief introduction from Peter Walker set three main questions:

What is Sphere? Why use it? and how to use it/what difference will it make? The first question was answered by the 9 minute Sphere video, which is concise and straight to the point and by Nan Buzard's presentation, which addressed the issue in more detail. She also approached the other two questions and gave an overview of the current situation of Sphere. However, "why use Sphere and what difference will it make" were the key subjects of the other speakers, who have been in different ways and from different perspectives in touch with Sphere standards. Most importantly, questions, concerns and positive ideas were put forward by numerous members of the floor. From inside the project… What is Sphere? As Nan Buzard explained in her presentation, Sphere has been a unique agreement amongst humanitarian agencies on core principles and actions concerning humanitarian assistance.

The Sphere handbook is based on the Humanitarian Charter and sets minimum standards in five areas: Food Aid, Nutrition, Water & Sanitation, Shelter & Site Selection and Health Services. It is a consolidation of agreed upon indicators and it constitutes a framework for disaster response in each area. Sphere current status is that of dissemination, discussion and debate concerning its practical use. From a professional engaged in fundraising, coordination, planning and dealing with the press… The Sphere standards are a useful tool for fundraising, according to Birte Hald. These standards make disaster response planning easier; they are particularly useful when having to work under pressure or on a crisis situation. They constitute a reference point for the media, journalists can use the minimum standards as a parameter for understanding performance in relief operations.

From a National Society… According to Walter Cotte, Sphere covers three branches: Professional assistance to those in need, human rights and standards/codes which can be useful not only to humanitarian agencies but also to governments, beneficiaries and benefactors. Sphere is a project with an integral vision of the humanitarian system. It facilitates the coordination and the logistics in relief operations but it also offers a space for development. In the long term it can even help to improve national laws.

From the field… The Sphere handbook is a major step forward in relief, it gives guidelines for proper assessment, which is crucial for aid delivery. The handbook provides us with a common terms of reference. Patrick Howard, who has a vast field experience, has found the Sphere handbook a very useful tool for operations directly in the field and also for a more appropriate response to donors. Most importantly, it improves the quality of the assistance humanitarian organizations provide.

General implications for the Federation… As Jean Ayoub explains, Sphere is a set of guidelines for fieldworkers. It doesn't provide us with new standards, but is a compilation of already existing standards. We should stop seeing Sphere as a project and move towards disseminating, discovering and sharing. At this stage debate is very important as Sphere needs more feedback for fine-tuning. In short, Sphere is a great planning tool, it should be included in the training curricula of humanitarian organizations and it constitutes a good reference to measure performance.

From the floor… In general, several participants expressed enthusiasm and pride of being part of Sphere. The interventions were mostly focused on concerns in the long run and not so much on how to apply or use Sphere at present. Questions Interface between Humanitarian Organizations and Governments The task of humanitarian organizations is to assure people a life with dignity, not necessarily to supply it. Is there a body or mechanism to audit the standards? At the present stage, Sphere does not cover that. However, this is a concern that faces the global humanitarian aid system and mechanisms are being worked on in various fora. Are there plans to expand the code areas? The five areas that Sphere covers are agreed upon. They are areas where consensus and consolidation among NGOs has been achieved. There were other areas, such as Psychological & Trauma assistance where consensus to include it had not been reached. Including new sectors may be considered in future editions. Concerns What to do when relief standards are higher than usual standards in a community? The Sphere standards are a useful tool but must be handled carefully, they can give a narrow view of the complexity of a relief operation. Sphere in itself does not provide a complete tool to measure performance. Input Sphere is a standard for services, not a standard solution.

Accountability: the importance to develop within every organization mechanisms to assess efficiency. Challenge: if you set up standards, set up mechanisms to do the assessments. Sphere is an overall process to improve assistance. It puts in first place the human factor. Even if Sphere's original target is disaster response, it could be a very valuable tool for development programs.


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