Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response

The Sphere Project arose from concern that an increase in worldwide demand for humanitarian relief could lead to inconsistent quality in relief assistance.

The Sphere Project handbook, Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response, which was produced by a coalition of leading non governmental humanitarian agencies, lists the following principles of humanitarian action:

  • The right to life with dignity
  • The distinction between combatant and non-combatants
  • The principle of non-refoulement


The handbook of minimum standards offers common terms of reference and aims to improve quality and accountability.

The cornerstone of the book is the Humanitarian Charter, which describes the rights of people affected by disasters and incorporates international legal instruments and The Code of Conduct.


          Minimum Standards Common to all Sectors


  • These common standards outline the responsibilities of the organisations and individuals, and are relevant to each of the technical sectors – so need to be considered and applied at all times.
  • Participation
  • How can you ensure the affected population participates in all aspects of your programme – in assessment, design, implementation, monitoring & evaluation?   Are all groups represented?
  • Initial assessment
  • Do you have a clear understanding and analysis of the situation – threats to life, dignity, health and livelihoods?   Have you consulted with the relevant authorities to assess the most important response?
  • Response
  • Are you responding to actual assessed needs?   Are you coordinating with other agencies to share information, minimise gaps in assistance and maximise impact?
  • Targeting
  • How can you ensure you provide assistance or services equitably and impartially, based on the vulnerability and needs of individuals or groups?
  • Monitoring
  • What processes are in place to monitor the effectiveness of your programme in responding to problems, and to change or adapt as required?   How will information be shared across all sectors?
  • Evaluation
  • Have you considered how to evaluate your programme systematically and impartially, to draw lessons for the future and to enhance accountability?
  • Aid worker competencies and responsibilities
  • Do you have the relevant technical qualifications and experience to carry out your duties?   If not, how can these gaps be addressed?   Are you adequately briefed on the local context, your responsibilities and those of your colleagues?
  • Supervision, management and support of personnel
  • Are you receiving adequate supervision and support to undertake your duties effectively?   Are there other agencies, professionals, colleagues etc. you could buddy/work with to share learning and build capacity?




  • Sphere standards contribute to good practice without requiring additional expense.
  • Sphere can be used for lobbying or funding.
  • Sphere helps quantify what is needed to enable people to achieve life with dignity.


          What to verify…


  • Does your project use objectives informed by the Sphere Handbook?
  • Does your project use indicators from the Sphere Handbook?
  • Does your project meet minimum standards?



Further references:


The Sphere Project (2004) Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response - also available in Arabic, Sinhala, Urdu, Nepali, French, Russian, Spanish, Chinese, Bahasa, Vietnamese, Japanese, Orlyn, Tamil.


Sphere Project in Wikipedia