Irish NGOs and SPHERE standards for humanitarian aid
On 14 April, Plan Ireland, in association with the Dóchas Humanitarian Aid Working Group, launched the revised SPHERE Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response.
The Sphere standards are the benchmark for quality in humanitarian assistance to people in need. They arose, like the Dóchas Codes of Conduct, out of the need to bring greater regulation of the international response to emergencies and disasters.
Since the early 1990s, the proliferation of NGOs has led to increased criticism of the aid “industry”, with independent evaluations of high-profile emergencies (Rwanda 1994, Tsunami 2004, Haiti 2010) showing that many aid agencies did not coordinate their activities with others, engaged in blatant competition for ‘photogenic’ projects, and generally failed to consult with the people they set out to help.
In response, NGOs pointed out that much of the criticism was aimed at aggressive new NGOs, not at the more established organisations that understand the need for coordination and proper engagement of “beneficiaries” in programme decision-making.
They argued that donors should fund aid agencies not on the quality of their PR, but on the quality of their work. In humanitarian aid, they said, Good Intentions are not enough, or as UCD’s Dr Pat Gibbons put it at the SPHERE launch:
“Working in humanitarian assistance is not a gift; we need to earn it.”
(See also this article)
Irish NGOs recognised the criticisms, and have for many years now worked together to develop a set of minimum professional standards that should apply to their work – a fact not lost on Minister O’Sullivan, who used the launch of the revised SPHERE standards to congratulate Irish NGOs for “their willingness to be judged against these standards”.
Dóchas will – encouraged by the recognition for its own Codes, and for Codes like SPHERE that Dóchas actively promotes – continue to ensure that its 40+ member organisations adhere to the highest possible standards of behaviour.
We do that, by monitoring adherence to existing Codes, by bringing NGOs together to share learning and develop new guidelines and standards, and – possibly most importantly – to encourage members of the public to only support those NGO s that adhere to professional standards.
So check out these resources:
- www.HowYouCanHelp.ie (information on what makes good emergency aid)
- SPHERE handbook & humanitarian charter
- Key questions to ask any charity
- NGO Codes of Conduct
- What Dóchas wants, and what it does (our Theory of Change)