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Applying humanitarian standards in global COVID-19 responses is crucial for programme quality, says the UN

Indonesian Red Cross volunteers deliver hygiene kits in Paramadina as part of the COVID-19 response in March 2020. Photo: Indonesian Red Cross


A strategic document published this month by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) stresses the importance of supporting humanitarian workers to apply Sphere standards as part of the global COVID-19 response.

The COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan (GHRP) combines appeals from global agencies, including UN entities and NGOs, and is meant to guide humanitarian actors in responding to the pandemic.

The Plan calls on donors to provide long-term, flexible and unearmarked funding (US$6.7 billion) to first responders and calls for dedicated funds to support training, capacity building and technical guidance – including through Sphere’s global community. “This would have a significant multiplier effect on the quality of programmes as members and partners of the various quality assurance initiatives, such as Sphere, in turn support and guide government agencies and thousands of local, national and regional organisations, networks and groups” the GHRP states, based on Sphere’s advice.

Sphere and its partners have supported COVID-19 efforts from the outset by producing and disseminating technical guidance based on humanitarian standards. The guidance has been translated into 11 languages by the Sphere community, used globally and discussed in webinars. Sphere’s global network of focal points and members are advocating for their implementation nationally and training humanitarian professionals on applying the standards locally; their crucial grassroots work will intensify over the coming months.

“All around the globe, humanitarian crises are being magnified by the current pandemic”, said Dr Balwant Singh, Sphere’s Executive Director. “Humanitarian standards provide an evidence-based, reliable, consistent and predictable framework for responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. The standards put the dignity and wellbeing of the people affected at the very core of any response.”

He appealed to all donors for funding to support the Sphere global community and other frontline NGOs through Country Based Pooled Funds and also directly. Dr Singh warned that “if new funds are not made available and funding is instead diverted from other humanitarian crises to tackle COVID-19, the consequences for those already at greatest risk will be dire”.

Over the next six months, Sphere will continue to support global efforts by hosting a series of webinars to share good practice and provide technical guidance on applying humanitarian standards in the COVID-19 response. The project, in partnership with the CHS Alliance, members of the Humanitarian Standards Partnership and Arbeiter-Samariter-Bund, is made possible by the H2H Network’s Global COVID-19 Humanitarian Support Package.


Sphere is a diverse global community of purpose and practice that brings together frontline practitioners, humanitarian agencies, community organisations, trainers, donors, policy makers, government agencies and affected communities, around a common goal – to improve the resilience of, and outcomes for, people affected by disaster and crisis. 

Sphere establishes, promotes and reviews quality standards for humanitarian action which provide an accountable framework for preparedness, resource allocation, response, monitoring and advocacy, before, during and after disasters and crises. Sphere believes that people affected by crisis must be at the centre of decisions about humanitarian protection, assistance, recovery and resilience.