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AID POLICY: Protection takes centre stage in new Sphere guidelines

NAIROBI, 14 April 2011 (IRIN) - Avoiding exposing vulnerable people to further harm, ensuring their access to impartial aid and assisting them to claim their rights and recover from abuse are some of the guidelines given to humanitarian actors in a new edition of the Sphere handbook, a set of common principles and universal standards for aid delivery.

Incorporating a new chapter on protection principles, the third edition of the Sphere Handbook, Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response (2011), stresses that protection is an intrinsic aspect of all humanitarian response.

"The handbook incorporates a stronger focus on protection and safety of affected populations and considers emerging issues like climate change, disaster risk reduction, disasters in an urban setting, education, as well as early recovery of services, livelihoods and governance capacity of affected communities," Maxine Clayton, head of the Inter Agency Working Group (IAWG), said.

Philip Wijmans, Kenya's country representative for the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), said: "This new edition of the Sphere handbook is a lifeline for humanitarian aid workers... it marks the beginning of a roll-out strategy."

Besides the chapter on protection, the handbook incorporates a rewritten Humanitarian Charter and restructured chapters on core standards as well as minimum standards.

According to the Sphere Project, at least 650 experts and more than 300 organizations in 20 countries were involved in the preparation of the 2011 edition, which is aimed at improving the quality of aid given to communities affected by natural disasters and armed conflict.

"The Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards will not of course stop humanitarian crises from happening, nor can they prevent human suffering," the Sphere project said in a statement marking the launch. "What they offer, however, is an opportunity for the enhancement of assistance with the aim of making a difference to the lives of people affected by disaster."

Launched alongside the Sphere handbook was Preventing Corruption in Humanitarian Operations by Transparency International Kenya (TI Kenya), the anti-corruption NGO. It is a practical guide to help aid organizations deal with corruption in their operations.

''This new edition of the Sphere handbook is a lifeline for humanitarian aid workers... it marks the beginning of a roll-out strategy''
"It highlights best practice tools for preventing and detecting corruption in humanitarian organizations," Rachel Mbai, TI Kenya's vice-chairwoman, said. "Transparency International defines corruption as 'abuse of entrusted power for private gain'. This includes financial corruption such as fraud, bribery, nepotism and extortion but also encompasses non-financial forms such as the diversion of humanitarian assistance to benefit non-target group."

Mbai said humanitarian organizations must be accountable, not only to their development partners but also to the people they have the mandate to serve.

"They have the duty to be transparent about their mandate, their scope of work, the eligibility criteria of the relief and services they are providing to communities," she said.

Roslyn Hees, TI senior adviser and co-author of the handbook, said: "The handbook is a menu of good practice tools to help organizations deter, detect and deal with specific corruption risks in their operations. It can also be used by donors as a checklist when looking at the institutional policies of the aid organizations they work with."

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Theme (s): Aid Policy, Conflict, Human Rights, Natural Disasters,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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