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Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response


The Core Standards describe processes that are essential to achieving all the Sphere minimum standards. They are a practical expression of the principles of the Sphere Humanitarian Charter and are fundamental to the rights of people affected by conflict or disaster to assistance that supports life with dignity. The Core Standards define the minimum level of response to be attained (as signalled by the key indicators) by humanitarian agencies, be they community-based, local, national or international.

The Core Standards are also linked to other key accountability initiatives, promoting coherence and reinforcing a shared commitment to accountability. For example, the Humanitarian Accountability Partnership (HAP) 2010 Standard in Accountability and Quality Management benchmarks and the Core Standards contain complementary requirements. The aid worker performance standard is coherent with People In Aid’s Code of Good Practice. The Good Enough Guide of the Emergency Capacity Building (ECB) Project, Groupe URD’s Quality Compas and the Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action (ALNAP) inform Core Standards 1 and 5 in particular. The Core Standards are a companion to the Foundational Standards in the INEE (Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies) Minimum Standards for Education: Preparedness, Response, Recovery.

The importance of the Core Standards for all sectors

The first Core Standard recognises that the participation of disaster-affected people – women, men, girls and boys of all ages – and their capacity and strategies to survive with dignity are integral to humanitarian response. Core Standard 2 addresses the need for an effective response to be coordinated and implemented with other agencies and governmental authorities engaged in impartial humanitarian action.

Core Standard 3 describes the need for assessments systematically to understand the nature of the disaster, identify who has been affected and how, and assess people’s vulnerability and capacities. It acknowledges the critical importance of understanding need in relation to the political, social, economic and environmental context and the wider population. Agencies meeting Core Standard 4 design their response based on an impartial assessment of needs, addressing unmet needs in relation to the context and capacity of affected people and states to meet their own needs

Core Standard 5 is attained by agencies that continually examine the effectiveness, quality and appropriateness of their response. Agencies adapt their strategies in accordance with monitoring information and feedback from people affected by disaster, and share information about their performance. They invest in unbiased reviews and evaluations and use the findings to improve their policy and practice.

Core Standard 6 recognises that humanitarian agencies have an obligation to disaster-affected people to employ aid workers with the appropriate knowledge, skills, behaviour and attitudes to deliver an effective humanitarian response. Equally, agencies are responsible for enabling aid workers to perform satisfactorily through effective management and support for their emotional and physical well-being.


Sphere’s focus is on meeting the urgent survival needs of people affected by disaster or conflict. However, the Core Standards can also support disaster preparedness and approaches that reduce future risk and vulnerability, enhance capacity and promote early recovery. Such approaches take account of the impact of the response on the natural environment and broader context and are highly relevant to the needs of the host and wider population.

Throughout the Handbook, ‘vulnerable’ refers to people who are especially susceptible to the effects of natural or man-made disasters or of conflict. People are, or become, more vulnerable to disasters due to a combination of physical, social, environmental and political factors. They may be marginalised by their society due to their ethnicity, age, sex, disability, class or caste, political affiliations or religion. A combination of vulnerabilities and the effect of an often volatile context all contribute to people being vulnerable for different reasons and in different ways. Vulnerable people, like all those affected by disaster, have various capacities to manage and recover from disasters. A thorough understanding of vulnerable people’s capacities and the barriers they may face in accessing humanitarian support is essential for a response that meets the needs of those who need it most.