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Humanitarian Accountability Report 2020: Preparedness is key, says Sphere director



This opinion piece by Sphere Executive Director Dr Balwant Singh is an excerpt of the latest Humanitarian Accountability Report, released by the CHS Alliance in October 2020.


Covid-19 demands our undivided attention and requires effective and timely action by all of us: governments, donors, the UN, business, humanitarian organisations, communities, families and individuals. Anything short of this means unnecessary infections, deaths and suffering for millions more.

CHS Commitment 2 is about effective and timely humanitarian assistance. It requires preparedness that encompasses leadership, good governance, planning, knowledge, skills, monitoring and evaluation, application of learning and adequate funding. The overall performance data for the 56 organisations that completed CHS verifications gives a score of 2.46, below the score of three that signals fulfilment of the Commitment.

The failure to meet this requirement has major consequences for those delivering and receiving assistance. First, a delayed humanitarian response often results in many more people needing assistance. Second, a delay usually worsens the severity and complexity of the problems people face. Thirdly, ineffective responses to a humanitarian crisis such as the Covid-19 pandemic multiply the impact of other existing crises such as famine, hunger and economic recession, by deepening the level of need and contributing to a sense of intractability of existing problems.

The application of technical standards is also the area where more progress has been made over the last few years. This is encouraging

The data shows that organisations are not a long way off from meeting the requirements in some areas: coordinating with others and referring unmet needs to those with relevant technical expertise; and using relevant technical standards – such as Sphere and other standards of the Humanitarian Standards Partnership – and good practice to plan, assess and evaluate programmes. In addition to having the highest score for this Commitment, the application of technical standards is also the area where more progress has been made over the last few years. This is encouraging and builds on efforts to improve technical standards, including the revision of the Sphere handbook in 2018 through an inclusive global consultation process, and to disseminate them widely. On the other hand, organisations perform poorly in addressing constraints such as access, security, logistics and funding when designing programmes.

There is hope for this Commitment to be fully met, and being prepared is key.

There is no time like now for investment in preparedness. Learning from past crises contributes to effective and timely humanitarian assistance

Do the governance and leadership of organisations understand community structures and needs, and the importance of working with communities to develop plans? Are they equipped to plan, make timely decisions and allocate resources appropriately? Is there adequate investment in the skills and competencies required for humanitarian assistance? Does the latter build on and involve skills within communities and community groups? Has the organisation made provision for expanding capacity rapidly during crises and identified ways to do so? Is there adequate monitoring and learning to adapt and improve programmes? Are logistics, security and other organisational systems able to cope with the demands associated with crises? Have donors committed to mobilise flexible, unearmarked and long-term funding rapidly during crises and funding for preparedness, without onerous requirements for recipients?

If the answer is ‘yes’ to these questions, it suggests organisations are well prepared and better able to achieve the requirements of Commitment 2. If the answer is ‘no’, there is no time like now for investment in preparedness. Learning from past crises and the application of lessons to current crises such as Covid-19 contribute to effective and timely humanitarian assistance and cannot be emphasised enough, for both humanitarian organisations and donors alike.