Q & A: 2018 Sphere Handbook

Photo: Sphere

Earlier this week, InterAction hosted the Washington D.C. launch of the 2018 Sphere Handbook. For the past 20 years, the Sphere Handbook has helped shape the core principles of humanitarian practice. The Handbook outlines a number of standards, indicators and guidelines intended to help those responding to crises and disasters provide the best support to affected populations. Before the event, we caught up with Christine Knudsen, Executive Director of Sphere, to learn more about the Sphere Handbook, its evolution, and its impact on humanitarian response.

The Sphere Handbooks is recognized as one of the most important tools for the delivery of quality humanitarian action. Why is it considered so critical for humanitarian practitioners?

The Handbook brings together the knowledge and experience of thousands of practitioners around the world, gathered over the past 20 years. It is a one-stop shop for new practitioners who want to understand how to understand a complex situation and how to go about developing a response with affected people, partners, and donors. And it guides seasoned practitioners to stay up to date in a constantly changing environment, with new standards addressing emerging challenges. 

How has the handbook adapted to the changes that have occurred within the humanitarian sector since it was first published?

With the majority of the world’s population now living in urban settings, this edition (the 4th in 20 years) very intentionally moved away from focusing on camp-based settings. You will find more examples and guidance for humanitarian action in cities and towns, as well as dispersed populations and informal settlements.  We have also brought cash-based assistance more fully into the Handbook, moving it from the food security chapter to develop guidance for working with markets as one way to deliver against the standards more globally.

What guidance can the handbook provide in terms of addressing the growing number of humanitarian challenges?

The consultation process which led to this edition has been the most inclusive in Sphere’s 20-year history.  With in-person consultation events organized in 40 countries (see infographic), approximately a third of participants self-identified as working for national/local organizations or national/local authorities.  This is significant, as it shows a real ownership at local level, and helped the Handbook reflect practice and knowledge from around the world.  This is essential for thinking through context, preparedness, systems-building and ability to respond to new, emerging and future challenges.  Local leadership and ownership of humanitarian action is not only a commitment, it is a reality that Sphere supports. 

The handbook outlines a number of principles that should guide humanitarian action. In your opinion, what is the best way to ensure these principles are adhered to by those working in this space?

The cornerstone of Sphere is the Humanitarian Charter, which outlines the legal and ethical framework for humanitarian action and applying the standards across all sectors.  By reaffirming the humanitarian principles, the Handbook also has taken a much stronger approach to inclusion, analysis of needs and capacities, and adapting programs to ensure that those most in need of assistance are not left behind.  The strengthened Protection Principles also provide a clear framework for anybody working in this space to ensure we are not creating or exposing people to additional harm, that we take all steps to ensure impartiality through addressing denial of assistance or discrimination, and the programs support holistic recovery from violations. 

To learn more about Sphere visit www.spherestandards.org and check out the 2018 addition of the Sphere Handbook