Every year, millions of people are affected by crises, conflicts and disasters. It is crucial that quality, timely and effective assistance is provided to those in need. Therefore, humanitarian actors must ensure effective responses, but how can we ensure all humanitarian organisations do just that? This is where the Core Humanitarian Standard comes in…
The Core Humanitarian Standard sets out nine commitments that humanitarian responders should use. These commitments ensure people affected by disasters receive timely, quality and appropriate humanitarian assistance whilst holding humanitarian actors fully accountable.
The aim of the Core Humanitarian Standard is to create a binding set of guidelines that all humanitarian actors can use to improve their responses. The Standard is designed to be used by humanitarian NGOs, as well as governments, militaries and local communities.
The Core Humanitarian Standard was established in 2014. Led by the Groupe URD, Sphere and the CHS Alliance, the Standard was developed following global consultations with over 2,000 humanitarian actors.
The nine commitments of the Core Humanitarian Standard are:
- Humanitarian response is appropriate and relevant.
- Humanitarian response is effective and timely
- Humanitarian response strengthens local capacities and avoids negative effects
- Humanitarian response is based on communication, participation and feedback.
- Complaints are welcomed and addressed.
- Humanitarian response is coordinated and complementary.
- Humanitarian actors continuously learn and improve.
- Staff are supported to do their job effectively, and are treated fairly and equitably.
- Resources are managed and used responsibly for their intended purpose.
Now we’ve given you an overview, let’s break down the commitments and show you why the Core Humanitarian Standard is crucial to an effective humanitarian response…
Humanitarian Response Is Appropriate and Relevant
The first commitment of the Core Humanitarian Standard says that the humanitarian response should be relevant and proper for the crises and the needs of the people affected. The Standard aims to ensure that humanitarian agencies deliver aid in-line with needs of the crises hit populations. It should be appropriate, applicable and culturally sensitive to the people who will receive it.
When populations are hit by crises and disasters people have a wide range of needs, often including shelter, food, water and sanitation and protection. The Core Humanitarian Standard is designed so that humanitarian responders are obliged to assess what the population actually needs and deliver the correct aid.
As well as ensuring that the correct aid is provided to affected populations, the Core Humanitarian Standard is also designed to limit wastage among humanitarian responders. Aid that is delivered that is not appropriate and relevant is unlikely to be used long-term, or used at all, by populations who have been affected.
Humanitarian actors that don’t abide by this commitment of the Standard risk wasting crucial aid resources.
In order to adhere to the Core Humanitarian Standard aid organisations must conduct extensive needs assessments. Establishing the needs of the affected community allows aid agencies to ensure their response is appropriate and correct to the crisis’s context. Failing to undertake needs assessments risks conducting a response outside of the Core Humanitarian Standard.
Another way that humanitarian responders must adhere to this commitment of the Core Humanitarian Standard is through monitoring, evaluation, accountability and learning, known as MEAL. This how aid agencies can ensure feedback from the people they serve and have accountability for their actions.
Accountability is crucial to ensure that the response remains in line with the Core Humanitarian Standard.
Humanitarian Response Is Effective and Timely
Humanitarian crises require urgent and rapid responses to save lives and limit their impact. The second commitment of the Core Humanitarian Standard states that an aid response needs be timely and effective. Humanitarian actors adhering to the Core Humanitarian Standard need to plan and implement their response so that aid reaches those in need when they need it.
Another key element of the second commitment of the Core Humanitarian Standard is that the aid delivered by humanitarian actors must be effective. This means the aid delivered must reduce suffering and limit the impact of the crises on the people affected.
It is crucial that aid agencies deliver their responses in-line with the Standard to ensure crises hit populations receive the aid they need quickly.
The second commitment of the Core Humanitarian Standard, like the first, also aims to limit wastage by humanitarian actors. Aid delivered too late is unlikely to be used. Crises hit people are resilient and will begin to assist themselves. There will also be many aid agencies working to deliver assistance. Humanitarian responders must deliver the right aid quickly or else resources will go unused as people no longer require them.
Although the Core Humanitarian Standard relates heavily to the initial aid response, it also acts to govern longer term humanitarian interventions. As crises move through different phases the needs of people affected can change. The second commitment of the Core Humanitarian Standard means humanitarian responders must continue to deliver effective aid quickly as people needs develop.
This second commitment of the Core Humanitarian Standard is crucial if an aid response is to be successful. People hit by crises and disasters are often in urgent need of assistance and aid agencies need to continually be able to deliver aid as and when it is needed.
In this regard, the Core Humanitarian Standard is a crucial foundation of an effective aid response.
Humanitarian Response Strengthens Local Capacities and Avoids Negative Effects
The third commitment of the Core Humanitarian Standard relates to both capacity building and ‘do no harm’. The first part of the commitment states that humanitarian responders must strengthen local capacities. This means building the skills, knowledge and technical understanding of people and institutions from the affected community so that they may better respond to future disasters.
Capacity building is an important part of the humanitarian sector. It is crucial that people who live in disaster and crises prone areas develop the capacities needed to respond. This allows them to better assist their own communities whilst relying less on external humanitarian assistance, often from international aid agencies.
This commitment of the humanitarian Standard means that aid agencies must place a significant enthesis on capacity building as part of their responses.
Capacity building is done through many ways, including hiring and training local staff and partnering with national NGOs to implement projects. Humanitarian actors adhering to the Core Standard for humanitarian work must ensure effective, and measurable, capacity building.
The second part of this commitment of the Core Humanitarian Standard states responders must avoid negative effects. Although all humanitarian actors aim to do good, in fact aid responses can cause significant negative impacts if not managed correctly. Aid agencies must make pro-active efforts to ensure their response does not cause harm, including during and after the initial humanitarian action.
Some of the ways that humanitarian responses can result in negative outcomes include poor coordination, duplication of efforts and working outside of national response structures. Badly implemented responses can also drive communities apart, distort local markets and effect economies.
Aid agencies must adhere to the Core Humanitarian Standard and work hard to ensure their response does not have unintended negative effects.
Humanitarian Response Is Based on Communication, Participation and Feedback
This commitment of the Core Standard for humanitarian work dictates that humanitarian responders need to engage with those they are helping, as well as other aid actors, to ensure a participatory and collaborative response. The Core Standard lays out that communication, participation and feedback are all crucial elements of humanitarian action and need to be imbedded in an aid response.
The first part of this commitment states the aid response must be based on communication. This means humanitarian actors need to be transparent and open about their operations, intentions and plans.
It is crucial humanitarian responders communicate clearly with those they are helping, as well as the wider community, local and national governments and other aid agencies.
The second part of this commitment of the Core Humanitarian Standard is about how a humanitarian response needs to be participatory. This means active engagement from the community the response aims to service. This can be through volunteering and recruitment, as well as designing projects that allow people to fully participate.
The third commitment of the Core Standard for humanitarian work also relates to feedback. This means humanitarian responders must continuously seek inputs from beneficiaries and effected communities. It also means aid agencies must be open to criticism and work to adapt their responses in-line with the feedback they receive.
Overall, the Core Humanitarian Standard is in-place to make sure aid agencies are accountable to the people they are working to help.
By enshrining communication, participation and feedback in humanitarian responses the Core Standard aims to allow people affected by crises and disasters to play and active role in their assistance.
Complaints Are Welcomed and Addressed
The Core Standard for humanitarian interventions instils that complaints from beneficiaries are welcomed and addressed. It is crucial that recipients of aid can take an active role in their own assistance and this includes being able to level complaints at humanitarian agencies. It is equally important humanitarian actors take criticism on board and actively modify their work accordingly.
Like many of the commitments in the Core Humanitarian Standard, this one has multiple elements. Firstly, it ensures humanitarian actors not only receive feedback but welcome it. This means they must actively seek critiques of their assistance from beneficiaries and create a culture where complaints are accepted.
There are many ways that humanitarian actors can seek feedback on their work. As part of a robust MEAL strategy, complaints boxes should be installed in all areas aid is delivered. Focus groups and surveys should also be conducted of beneficiaries.
Alongside this, anecdotal information, feedback from partners and staff complaints are all ways humanitarian agencies can receive feedback.
The second part of this commitment of Core Humanitarian Standard says that complaints must be addressed. This means humanitarian actors must create a culture of open discussion and flexibility. They must also be able to adapt to changes quickly and allow for fluidity in their operations. All are crucial to achieving the Core Standard for humanitarian work.
It is vitally important that humanitarian actors remain accountable to the people they are assisting. This means both individuals and the wider community must be able to address complaints about the humanitarian intervention.
It also means humanitarian organisations must have robust feedback mechanisms and an adaptable way of working if they are to adhere to the Core Humanitarian Standard.
Humanitarian Response Is Coordinated and Complementary
The sixth commitment of the Core Standard for humanitarian intervention relates to coordination of humanitarian actors. As crises hit many organisations begin to respond. This includes a mixture of local, national and international humanitarian organisations, as well as often governments, military and emergency service branches.
Coordination of a response is vital and that is why the Standard includes this commitment.
The Core Humanitarian Standard aims to ensure that humanitarian responses include a range of mechanisms to ensure different organisations coordinate together and efforts are not duplicated. If crises affected communities are to receive proper and timely assistance it means humanitarian actors must work together effectively
This commitment of the Core Standard for humanitarian intervention is important because if humanitarian organisations do not coordinate, then resources are wasted and the impact of assistance decreases. Duplication and lack of coordination between humanitarian actors can mean aid fails to reach areas it is needed whilst being over supplied in other locations.
The Core Standard aims to decrease wastage within a response.
In large humanitarian interventions, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) takes the lead on coordinating humanitarian actors. However, there are also a range of mechanisms that should be used including the 4W matrix, coordination meetings, comprehensive needs assessments, the cluster approach and regular contact between humanitarian actors.
The Core Standard puts the onus of humanitarian agencies to ensure coordination is built into their responses.
The other crucial part of this commitment of Core Standard for humanitarian responses is that the intervention must be complimentary. This means humanitarian actors must work to their strengths.
Each agency has different capacities and the Standard aims to ensure that humanitarian organisations work together to maximise the effectiveness of their response.
Humanitarian Actors Continuously Learn and Improve
The Core Humanitarian Standard states that aid agencies must continue to improve their responses and learn lessons. The aim of the Standard is to ensure that humanitarian actions improve as they progress, and also that humanitarian organisations are able to learn from previous errors and avoid repetition of short-comings within and between responses.
The first part of this commitment in the Core Standard for humanitarian intervention states that aid organisations must continuously learn. This means humanitarian agencies must install mechanisms that allow them to capture learning, as well as processes to ensure action is taken on lessons learnt.
Learning must be organisation wide with agencies improving across countries and missions as well as within responses.
The second part of this commitment of the Core Humanitarian Standard requires humanitarian actors to continue to improve. Humanitarian responses operate in inherently difficult environments, and mistakes will be made.
However, the Standard means that humanitarian organisations should aim to improve on their short-comings and that aid recipients can expect aid agencies to improve as responses progress.
The aim of this commitment is so that beneficiaries and communities affected by crises can expect aid organisations to be reflective, develop and learn within a response. It also aims for aid organisations to create ways to continuously improve and avoid stagnation. The Core Standard is critical in insuring dynamic and responsive humanitarian actions.
There are many ways that humanitarian organisations can work to adhere to this commitment of the Core Standard. Ensuring effective lessons learned and mechanisms for making sure outcomes are implemented is key. Aid agencies also need to develop a culture of internal dialogue and a desire for continued improvement.
This Standard is vital to ensure that recipients of aid can expect ever improving delivery of assistance.
Staff Are Supported to Do Their Job Effectively, And Are Treated Fairly and Equitably
The Core Humanitarian Standard also covers the internal workings of humanitarian organisations. It states that staff working, and volunteering, for aid agencies must be able to do so effectively, and be treated fairly and as equals. This is a crucial commitment for the aid industry aims to ensure staff have the ability to manage projects in difficult and complex environments.
The first part of this commitment in the Core Standard outlines how staff delivering aid should be supported to do their jobs effectively. This means aid agencies need strong procedures in place around staff management, training and HR. It also means a culture within humanitarian organisations must be maintained where staff feel supported and dialogue is encouraged
The second part of this commitment in the Core Humanitarian Standard states that staff should be treated fairly. This means aid organisations treat all staff impartially, both through formal processes and within the culture of the organisation.
Robust systems must be in place for all elements of staff management. Strong formal and informal management must be used to adhere to the Core Standard for humanitarian work.
The third part of this commitment says that aid agency staff must be treated equitably. This means all staff and volunteers should expect to be treated in a fair and impartial manor. It is important that humanitarian organisations are spaces where everyone feels they are treated equally, and hierarchy is limited.
In complex humanitarian responses it’s crucial a diverse range of people are able to input as good decisions are not monopolised. The Core Humanitarian Standard is important to ensuring that.
Another key reason for this commitment in the Core Humanitarian Standard is to ensure that aid agencies deliver assistance through well managed and competent staff and volunteers. It also aims to ensure fairness within humanitarian organisations. This can be especially important as aid organisations can have inbuilt power dynamics, such as between international managers and local staff.
Resources Are Managed and Used Responsibly for Their Intended Purpose
The final commitment of the Core Humanitarian Standard covers how resources should be used as part of the response. It is crucial that resources used within a humanitarian response are deployed correctly. Although, in chaotic initial responses to disasters some wastage can be expected, the Standard aims for humanitarian organisations to operate systems where resources are used to their maximum potential.
Resource allocation is vital to an effective humanitarian response. This means systems must be in-place, including in procurement, warehousing and shipment to ensure aid delivery achieves its aims. It also means human resources must be used correctly and procedures put in place to ensure people with the right skills are allocated where needed.
This commitment in the Core Standard for humanitarian intervention ensures aid organisations work to maximise efficiency. Not only does this decrease wastage within the response, but it also ensures people in need receive assistance as timely and correctly as possible. The Standard aims for humanitarian responders to put the efficiency of their response at the fore-front of their intervention.
Another important part of this final commitment in the Core Humanitarian Standard is that aid agencies are required to use their resources ethically. This covers all elements of resource management including purchasing, supply chain management, distributions and human resources.
It is vitally important that humanitarian organisations imbed the ethical use of resources into their response and the Standard aims to enshrine that.
Humanitarian interventions operate in chaotic and ever-changing environments. This inherently means challenges will be faced in allocating resources. However, the Core Humanitarian Standard is designed to compel aid organisations to maximise the effective use of their resources whilst minimising waste. It is intended so that people in need of assistance can expect the most efficient response possible from humanitarian actors.