Spotlights on Health and Rights

Key topics in the Heilbrunn Department of Population and Family Health

Forced Migration

Standard Responses

Standard responses to a humanitarian crisis - the emergency phase

In this section you will understand the Sphere Project, an international initiative aimed at improving the effectiveness and accountability of disaster response, and the minimum standards in humanitarian response.


Refugee children in Petionville Haiti, 2010
Photo: Jeff Kinyon

The Sphere Project

The Sphere Project is an international initiative aimed at improving the effectiveness and accountability of disaster response.

The Sphere Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response set out for the first time what people affected by disasters have a right to expect from humanitarian assistance.

The project is based on two core beliefs: first, that all possible steps should be taken to alleviate human suffering arising out of calamity and conflict; second, that those affected by disaster have a right to life and dignity and therefore a right to assistance.

However, a major limitation of this effort is that it is entirely voluntary. The only enforcement is through the expectation that humanitarian actors have of one another that assistance will be provided in accord with Sphere guidelines. To date over 400 organizations in over 80 countries all around the world have contributed to the Minimum Standards and key indicators.

The Humanitarian Charter

All Humanitarian Response is guided by the Humanitarian Charter.

The Charter is concerned with the most basic requirements for sustaining the lives and dignity of those affected by calamity or conflict, as reflected in the body of international human rights, humanitarian, and refugee law. It is on this basis that agencies offer their services. They undertake to act in accordance with the principles of humanity and impartiality, and with the other principles set out in the Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent and NGOs in Disaster Relief. The Humanitarian Charter reaffirms the fundamental importance of three key principles:

  • The right to life with dignity
  • The distinction between combatants and non-combatants
  • The principle of non-refoulement (to not forcibly return refugees to the place from where they were fleeing)

The Sphere Project Minimum Standards in Disaster Response are the basis for the summary of the humanitarian responses to the emergency phase of a crisis that will follow in the next few sections. These Minimum Standards are a practical expression of the principles and rights embodied in the Humanitarian Charter.  

A Question for Further Reflection

These standards are voluntary; i.e., there is neither a requirement that organizations meet them nor any mechanism to ensure that standards are met. Do you think organizations providing services to conflict-affected people should be required to demonstrate compliance to these standards?

Common standards

Standards Common to All Sectors

  1. Participation The disaster-affected population actively participates in the assessment, design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the assistance program.
  2. Initial assessment Assessments provide an understanding of the disaster situation and a clear analysis of threats to life, dignity, health and livelihoods to determine, in consultation with the relevant authorities, whether an external response is required and, if so, the nature of the response
  3. Response A humanitarian response is required in situations where the relevant authorities are unable and/or unwilling to respond to the protection and assistance needs of the population on the territory over which they have control, and when assessment and analysis indicate that these needs are unmet
  4. Targeting Humanitarian assistance or services are provided equitably and impartially, based on the vulnerability and needs of individuals or groups affected by disaster
  5. Monitoring The effectiveness of the program in responding to problems is identified and changes in the broader context are continually monitored, with a view to improving the program, or to phasing it out as required
  6. Evaluation There is a systematic and impartial examination of humanitarian action, intended to draw lessons to improve practice and policy and to enhance accountability
  7. Aid worker competencies and responsibilities Aid workers possess appropriate qualifications, attitudes and experience to plan and effectively implement the appropriate program.
  8. Supervision, management and support of personnel Aid workers receive supervision and support to ensure effective implementation of the humanitarian assistance program.

Water and Sanitation standards

Water Supply, Sanitation & Hygiene Promotion

  1. Hygiene Promotion All facilities and resources provided reflect the vulnerabilities, needs and preferences of the affected population. Users are involved in the management and maintenance of hygiene facilities where appropriate
  2. Water Supply
    • Standard 1: access and water quantity - All people have safe and equitable access to a sufficient quantity of water for drinking, cooking and personal and domestic hygiene. Public water points are sufficiently close to households to enable use of the minimum water requirement.
    • Standard 2: water quality - Water is palatable, and of sufficient quality to be consumed and used for personal and domestic hygiene without causing significant risk to health
    • Standard 3: water use facilities and goods - People have adequate facilities and supplies to collect, store and use sufficient quantities of water for drinking, cooking and personal hygiene, and to ensure that drinking water remains safe until it is consumed
  3. Excreta Disposal
    • Standard 1: Access to, and numbers of, toilets - People have adequate numbers of toilets, sufficiently close to their dwellings, to allow them rapid, safe and acceptable access at all times of the day and night.
    • Standard 2: Design, construction and use of toilets - Toilets are sited, designed, constructed and maintained in such a way as to be comfortable, hygienic and safe to use
  4. Vector Control
    • Standard 1: Individual and family protection - All disaster-affected people have the knowledge and the means to protect themselves from disease and nuisance vectors that are likely to represent a significant risk to health or well-being
    • Standard 2: Physical, environmental and chemical protection measures - The numbers of disease vectors that pose a risk to people's health and nuisance vectors that pose a risk to people's well-being are kept to an acceptable level
    • Standard 3: Chemical control safety - Chemical vector control measures are carried out in a manner that ensures that staff, the people affected by the disaster and the local environment are adequately protected, and avoids creating resistance to the substances used
  5. Solid Waste Management
    • Standard 1: Collection and disposal - People have an environment that is acceptably uncontaminated by solid waste, including medical waste, and have the means to dispose of their domestic waste conveniently and effectively.
  6. Drainage
    • Standard 1: Works - People have an environment in which the health and other risks posed by water erosion and standing water, including storm water, floodwater, domestic wastewater and wastewater from medical facilities, are minimized

Food Security, Nutrition and Food Aid

Food Security, Nutrition & Food Aid

  1. Assessment and Analysis
    • Standard 1: Food security - Where people are at risk of food insecurity, program decisions are based on a demonstrated understanding of how they normally access food, the impact of the disaster on current and future food security, and hence the most appropriate response
    • Standard 2: Nutrition - Where people are at risk of malnutrition, program decisions are based on a demonstrated understanding of the causes, type, degree and extent of malnutrition, and the most appropriate response
  2. Food Security
    • Standard 1: General food security - People have access to adequate and appropriate food and non-food items in a manner that ensures their survival, prevents erosion of assets and upholds their dignity
    • Standard 2: primary production - Primary production mechanisms are protected and supported
    • Standard 3: Income and employment - Where income generation and employment are feasible livelihood strategies, people have access to appropriate income-earning opportunities, which generate fair remuneration and contribute towards food security without jeopardizing the resources on which livelihoods are based.
    • Standard 4: Access to markets - People's safe access to market goods and services as producers, consumers and traders is protected and promoted
  3. General Nutrition Support
    • Standard 1: All groups - The nutritional needs of the population are met
    • Standard 2: At-risk groups - The nutritional and support needs of identified at-risk groups are met
  4. Correction of Malnutrition
    • Standard 1: Moderate malnutrition - Moderate malnutrition is addressed
    • Standard 2: Severe malnutrition - Severe malnutrition is addressed
    • Standard 3: micronutrient malnutrition - Micronutrient deficiencies are addressed
  5. Food Aid Planning
    • Standard 1: Ration planning - Rations for general food distributions are designed to bridge the gap between the affected population's requirements and their own food resources
    • Standard 2: Appropriateness and acceptability - The food items provided are appropriate and acceptable to recipients and can be used efficiently at the household level
    • Standard 3: Food quality and safety - Food distributed is of appropriate quality and is fit for human consumption
  6. Food Aid Management
    • Standard 1: Food handling - Food is stored, prepared and consumed in a safe and appropriate manner at both household and community levels
    • Standard 2: Supply chain management - Food aid resources (commodities and support funds) are well managed, using transparent and responsive systems
    • Standard 3: Distribution - The method of food distribution is responsive, transparent, equitable and appropriate to local conditions

Shelter, Settlement and Non-Food Items

Shelter, Settlement & Non-Food Items

  1. Shelter and Settlement
    • Standard 1: Strategic planning - Existing shelter and settlement solutions are prioritised through the return or hosting of disaster-affected households, and the security, health, safety and well-being of the affected population are ensured
    • Standard 2: Physical planning - Local physical planning practices are used where possible, enabling safe and secure access to and use of shelters and essential services and facilities, as well as ensuring appropriate privacy and separation between individual household shelters
    • Standard 3: Covered living space - People have sufficient covered space to provide dignified accommodation. Essential household activities can be satisfactorily undertaken, and livelihood support activities can be pursued as required
    • Standard 4: Design - The design of the shelter is acceptable to the affected population and provides sufficient thermal comfort, fresh air and protection from the climate to ensure their dignity, health, safety and well-being
    • Standard 5: Construction - The construction approach is in accordance with safe local building practices and maximizes local livelihood opportunities
    • Standard 6: Environmental impact - The adverse impact on the environment is minimized by the settling of the disaster-affected households, the material sourcing and construction techniques used
  2. Non-Food Items
    • Standard 1: clothing and bedding - The people affected by the disaster have sufficient clothing, blankets and bedding to ensure their dignity, safety and well-being
    • Standard 2: personal hygiene - Each disaster-affected household has access to sufficient soap and other items to ensure personal hygiene, health, dignity and well-being
    • Standard 3: cooking and eating utensils - Each disaster-affected household has access to cooking and eating utensils
    • Standard 4: stoves, fuel and lighting - Each disaster-affected household has access to communal cooking facilities or a stove and an accessible supply of fuel for cooking needs and to provide thermal comfort. Each household also has access to appropriate means of providing sustainable artificial lighting to ensure personal security
    • Standard 5: tools and equipment - Each disaster-affected household responsible for the construction or maintenance and safe use of their shelter has access to the necessary tools and equipment

South Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo Photo: Elizabeth Sung

Health Services

Health Services

  • PART I: Health Systems and Infrastructure Standards
    • Standard 1: Prioritizing health services - All people have access to health services that are prioritized to address the main causes of excess mortality and morbidity
    • Standard 2: Supporting national and local health systems - Health services are designed to support existing health systems, structures and providers
    • Standard 3: Coordination - People have access to health services that are coordinated across agencies and sectors to achieve maximum impact
    • Standard 4: Primary health care - Health services are based on relevant primary health care principles
    • Standard 5: Clinical services - People have access to clinical services that are standardized and follow accepted protocols and guidelines
    • Standard 6: Health information systems - The design and development of health services are guided by the ongoing, coordinated collection, analysis and utilization of relevant public health data
  • PART II: Control of communicable diseases standards

    • Standard 1: Prevention - People have access to information and services that are designed to prevent the communicable diseases that contribute most significantly to excess morbidity and mortality
    • Standard 2: Measles prevention - All children aged 6 months to 15 years have immunity against measles
    • Standard 3: Diagnosis and case management - People have access to effective diagnosis and treatment for those infectious diseases that contribute most significantly to preventable excess morbidity and mortality
    • Standard 4: Outbreak preparedness - Measures are taken to prepare for and respond to outbreaks of infectious diseases
    • Standard 5: Outbreak detection, investigation and response - Outbreaks of communicable diseases are detected, investigated and controlled in a timely and effective manner
    • Standard 6: HIV/AIDS - People have access to the minimum package of services to prevent transmission of HIV/AIDS
  • PART III: Control of non-communicable diseases standards

    • Standard 1: Injury - People have access to appropriate services for the management of injuries
    • Standard 2: Reproductive health - People have access to the Minimum Initial Service Package (MISP) to respond to their reproductive health needs
    • Standard 3: Mental and social aspects of health - People have access to social and mental health services to reduce mental health morbidity, disability and social problems
    • Standard 4: Chronic diseases - For populations in which chronic diseases are responsible for a large proportion of mortality, people have access to essential therapies to prevent death

Standard responses in the post emergency phase

In the post-emergency phase, humanitarian efforts seek to maintain the health and well-being of the population through the continuation of the response described in the emergency phase section and through expanding services to include the following: Enhancement / extension (improved coverage, greater depth of services) of the interventions described for the emergency phase response, plus:

  • Family tracing and reunification
  • Social services- schools, community/youth centers
  • Community health programs
  • Continuation of preventative health services for incoming refugees
  • Greater participation by "beneficiary" population in all aspects of programming