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Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response


Links to the Humanitarian Charter and international law

The minimum standards for shelter, settlement and non-food items are a practical expression of the shared beliefs and commitments of humanitarian agencies and the common principles governing humanitarian action that are set out in the Humanitarian Charter and the Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in Disaster Relief. Founded on the principle of humanity, and reflected in international law, these principles include the right to life with dignity, the right to protection and security and the right to receive humanitarian assistance on the basis of need. A list of key legal and policy documents that inform the Humanitarian Charter is available for reference in Annex 1, with explanatory comments for humanitarian workers. In humanitarian action, shelter, settlement and associated non-food items are familiar terms that fall within the scope of the right to adequate housing, which is enshrined in human rights law.

Everyone has the right to adequate housing. This right is recognised in key international legal instruments (see References and further reading: International legal instruments). This includes the right to live in security, peace and dignity, with security of tenure, as well as protection from forced eviction and the right to restitution. These instruments define adequate housing as ensuring:

The minimum standards in this chapter are not a complete expression of the right to adequate housing as defined by the relevant international legal instruments. Rather, the minimum standards reflect the core content of the right to adequate housing and contribute to the progressive realisation of this right.

The importance of shelter, settlement and non-food items in disasters

Shelter is a critical determinant for survival in the initial stages of a disaster. Beyond survival, shelter is necessary to provide security, personal safety and protection from the climate and to promote resistance to ill health and disease. It is also important for human dignity, to sustain family and community life and to enable affected populations to recover from the impact of disaster. Shelter and associated settlement and non-food item responses should support existing coping strategies and promote self-sufficiency and self-management by those affected by the disaster. Local skills and resources should be maximised where this does not result in adverse effects on the affected population or local economy. Any response should take into account known disaster risks and minimise the long-term adverse impact on the natural environment, while maximising opportunities for the affected population to maintain or establish livelihood support activities.

Thermal comfort, protection from the effects of the climate and personal safety and dignity are achieved by meeting a combination of needs at the level of the individuals themselves, the covered space they inhabit and the location in which their covered area is situated. Similarly, meeting these needs requires an appropriate combination of the means to prepare, cook and eat food; clothing and bedding; an adequate covered area or shelter; a means of space heating and ventilation as required; and access to essential services.

The shelter, settlement and non-food item needs of populations affected by a disaster are determined by the type and scale of the disaster and the extent to which the population is displaced. The response will also be informed by the ability and desire of displaced populations to return to the site of their original dwelling and to start the recovery process: where they are unable or unwilling to return, they will require temporary or transitional shelter and settlement solutions (see the diagram below). The local context of the disaster will inform the response, including whether the affected area is rural or urban; the local climatic and environmental conditions; the political and security situation; and the ability of the affected population to contribute to meeting their shelter needs. In extreme weather conditions, where shelter may be critical to survival or, as a result of displacement, the affected population may be unable to construct appropriate shelter, rapidly deployable shelter solutions, such as tents or similar, will be required or temporary accommodation provided in existing public buildings. Displaced populations may arrange shelter with host families, settle as individual households or in groups of households within existing settlements or may need to be temporarily accommodated in planned and managed camps or collective centres.

Shelter and settlement optionsand response scenarios

Affected populations should be supported where possible to repair or adapt existing dwellings or build new structures. Assistance can include the provision of appropriate construction materials, tools and fixings, cash or vouchers, technical guidance and training or a combination of these. Support or technical assistance should be provided to affected populations who do not have the capacity or expertise to undertake construction activities. The rights and needs of those who are secondarily affected by the disaster, such as neighbouring populations hosting those displaced by the disaster, must also be considered. Where public buildings, particularly schools, have been used as temporary communal accommodation, the planned and managed safe relocation of the sheltered population should be undertaken as soon as possible to allow for normal activities to resume.

Any response should be informed by the steps taken by the affected population to provide temporary or permanent shelter using their own capacities and resources. Shelter responses should enable affected populations to incrementally upgrade and/or make the transition from emergency to durable housing solutions.

The repair of damaged public buildings or the provision of temporary structures to serve as schools, healthcare centres and other communal facilities may also be required. The sheltering of livelihood assets such as livestock may be an essential complement to the provision of household shelter for some affected populations. The response should be informed by existing shelter and settlement risks and vulnerabilities regarding location, planning, design and construction, including those made worse by the disaster or due to the impact of climate change. Consideration of the environmental impact of settlement solutions and shelter construction is also critical to minimising the long-term impact of a disaster.

Better shelter, settlement and non-food items disaster response is achieved through better preparedness. Such preparedness is a result of the capacities, relationships and knowledge developed by governments, humanitarian agencies, local civil society organisations, communities and individuals to anticipate and respond effectively to the impact of likely, imminent or current hazards. Preparedness is informed by an analysis of risks and the use of early warning systems.

Links to the other chapters

Many of the standards in the other chapters are relevant to this chapter. Progress in achieving standards in one area often influences and sometimes even determines progress in other areas. For an intervention to be effective, close coordination and collaboration is required with other sectors. For example, the complementary provision of an adequate water supply and sanitation facilities in areas where shelter assistance is being provided is necessary to ensure the health and dignity of the affected population. Similarly, the provision of adequate shelter contributes to the health and well-being of displaced populations, while essential cooking and eating utensils and fuel for cooking are required to enable food assistance to be utilised and nutritional needs met. Coordination with local authorities, other responding agencies and community-based and representative organisations is also necessary to ensure that needs are met, that efforts are not duplicated and that the quality of shelter, settlement and non-food item interventions is optimised.

Links to the Protection Principles and Core Standards

In order to meet the standards of this Handbook, all humanitarian agencies should be guided by the Protection Principles, even if they do not have a distinct protection mandate. The Principles are not ‘absolute’: circumstances may limit the extent to which agencies are able to fulfil them. Nevertheless, the Principles reflect universal humanitarian concerns which should guide action at all times.

The process by which an intervention is developed and implemented is critical to its effectiveness. The six core minimum standards are essential process and personnel standards covering people-centred humanitarian response; coordination and collaboration; assessment; design and response; performance, transparency and learning; and aid worker performance. They provide a single reference point for approaches that support all other standards in the Handbook. Each technical chapter, therefore, requires the companion use of the core minimum standards to help attain its own standards. In particular, to ensure the appropriateness and quality of any response, the participation of disaster-affected people – including the groups and individuals most frequently at risk in disasters – should be maximised.

Vulnerabilities and capacities of disaster-affected populations

It is important to understand that to be young or old, a woman or a person with a disability or HIV does not, of itself, make a person vulnerable or at increased risk. Rather, it is the interplay of factors that does so: for example, someone who is over 70 years of age, lives alone and has poor health is likely to be more vulnerable than someone of a similar age and health status living within an extended family and with sufficient income. Similarly, a 3-year-old girl is much more vulnerable if she is unaccompanied than if she were living in the care of responsible parents.

As the shelter, settlement and non-food item standards and key actions are implemented, a vulnerability and capacity analysis helps to ensure that a disaster response effort supports those who have a right to assistance in a non-discriminatory manner and who need it most. This requires a thorough understanding of the local context and of how a particular crisis impacts on particular groups of people in different ways due to their pre-existing vulnerabilities (e.g. being very poor or discriminated against), their exposure to various protection threats (e.g. gender-based violence including sexual exploitation), disease incidence or prevalence (e.g. HIV or tuberculosis) and possibilities of epidemics (e.g. measles or cholera). Disasters can make pre-existing inequalities worse. However, support for people’s coping strategies, resilience and recovery capacities is essential. Their knowledge, skills and strategies need to be supported and their access to social, legal, financial and psychosocial support advocated for. The various physical, cultural, economic and social barriers they may face in accessing these services in an equitable manner also need to be addressed.

The following points highlight some of the key areas that will ensure that the rights and capacities of all vulnerable people are considered: