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Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response

Core Standard 4: Design and response

The humanitarian response meets the assessed needs of the disaster-affected population in relation to context, the risks faced and the capacity of the affected people and state to cope and recover.


Key actions (to be read in conjunction with the guidance notes)


Key indicators (to be read in conjunction with the guidance notes)


Guidance notes

  1. Supporting existing capacity: It is the primary role and responsibility of the state to provide timely assistance and protection to those affected (see Humanitarian Charter paragraph 2). Intervene if the affected population and/or state does not have sufficient capacity to respond (particularly early in the response) or if the state or controlling authorities actively discriminate against certain groups of people and/or affected areas. In all cases the capacity and intentions of the state towards all members of the affected population inform the scale and type of humanitarian response.
  2. Access: Assistance is provided to those in need without discrimination (see Protection Principle 2). People’s access to aid and their ability to use and benefit from assistance is increased through the provision of timely information and through design that corresponds with their particular needs and cultural and safety considerations (for example, separate queues for older people or women with children attending food distributions). It is enhanced by the participation of women, men, girls and boys of all ages in the design. Access is increased through the use of carefully designed targeting criteria and processes that are widely communicated, understood by the community and systematically monitored. Actions described in the technical chapters facilitate equal access through considered design, such as locating facilities in areas that are safe, etc.
  3. The foundation of life with dignity is the assurance of access to basic services, security and respect for human rights (see Humanitarian Charter). Equally, the way in which humanitarian response is implemented strongly affects the dignity and well-being of the disaster-affected population. Programme approaches that respect the intrinsic value of each individual, support their religious and cultural identity, promote community-based self-help and encourage positive social support networks all contribute to psychosocial well-being and are an essential element of people’s right to life with dignity.
  4. Context and vulnerability: Social, political, cultural, economic, conflict and natural environment factors can increase people’s susceptibility to disasters; changes in the context can create newly vulnerable people (see Core Standard 3). Vulnerable people may face a number of factors simultaneously (for example, older people who are members of marginalised ethnic groups). The interplay of personal and contextual factors that heighten risk should be analysed and programmes should be designed to address and mitigate those risks and target the needs of vulnerable people.
  5. Conflict sensitivity: Humanitarian assistance can have unintended negative impacts. Valuable aid resources can increase exploitation and abuse and lead to competition, misuse or misappropriation of aid. Famine can be a weapon of war (e.g. deliberately depopulating an area or forcing asset transfers). Aid can negatively affect the wider population and amplify unequal power relations between different groups, including men and women. Careful analysis and design can reduce the potential for assistance to increase conflict and insecurity (including during natural disasters). Design to ensure equitable distribution and the impartial targeting of assistance. Protect people’s safety and dignity by respecting confidential personal information. For example, people living with HIV and AIDS may be stigmatised; survivors of human rights violations must be guaranteed safe and confidential assistance (see Core Standard 3).
  6. Meeting Sphere’s minimum standards: The time taken to reach the minimum standards will depend on the context: it will be affected by resources, access, insecurity and the living standards of the area prior to a disaster. Tension may be created if the affected population attains standards that exceed those of the host and/or wider population, or even worsen their conditions. Develop strategies to minimise the disparities and risks by, for example, mitigating any negative impacts of the response on the wider natural environment and economy and advocating to increase the standards of the host population. Where and when possible, increase the scope of the response to include the host population.
  7. Early recovery and risk reduction: Actions taken at the earliest opportunity to strengthen local capacity, work with local resources and restore services, education, markets and livelihood opportunities will promote early economic recovery and the ability of people to manage risk after external assistance has ended (see Core Standard 1). At the very least, humanitarian response should not harm or compromise the quality of life for future generations and inadvertently contribute to future hazards (through, for example, deforestation and the unsustainable use of natural resources). Once immediate threats to life have been stabilised, analyse present and (multiple) potential future hazards (such as those created by climate change). Design to reduce future risks. For example, take opportunities during the response to invest in risk reduction and ‘build back safer’. Examples include building earthquake- and hurricane-resistant houses, protecting wetlands that absorb storm surges and supporting policy development and community-driven initiatives in early warning and disaster preparedness.