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Launch of Sphere Project
April 14, 2011
Remarks by USAID Southern Africa Deputy Director, Leslie Reed
Launch of Sphere Project--Humanitarian Charter and
Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response Handbook 2011 Edition
My thanks to World Vision and the World Food Program for hosting this event and for the opportunity to offer some remarks on behalf of USAID.
Last year, after analyzing USAID’s approach, our Administrator, Rajiv Shah, reported his intention to “Focus our vision and promote high impact development that hastens recovery in times of natural disaster, and helps transform conflict zones into places where communities can regain security and hope for the future.”
USAID strongly supports the efforts of the Sphere Project over the past 14 years in developing and advocating for a set of basic standards to guide the humanitarian relief activities of the many agencies engaged in such efforts across the world. With hundreds of agencies engaged in humanitarian relief—be they NGOs, donors, United Nations agencies, local governments or others – there is obviously a great need for coordination and a common set of guiding principles, and the Sphere Handbook is a great tool for promoting this.
The Sphere Project is also important as an affirmation of the basic human rights of dignity, security and freedom from suffering, and the commitment of the humanitarian community to assure quality and accountability in our disaster response activities in order to uphold these basic human rights.
These are, as you note, aspirational ideals that can be very difficult to actually fully achieve in any given situation. The world has changed dramatically since these basic principles were first established – for example, the division between combatants and civilians is sometimes quite blurred. Just look at events this year to see evidence of my statement. It is therefore imperative that we all agree in principle what we’re aiming for, work collaboratively to try to achieve the ideals and candidly assess where we have fallen short and try to identify why we have done so.
Given the dynamic nature of the world we live in, including evaluation in the minimum standards is particularly important. USAID has revamped its own evaluation policy recognizing that not only is this approach essential for learning, but it is a cornerstone of responsible stewardship of increasingly limited resources.
Evaluation is a vital tool for ensuring full accountability – both to those who are the intended beneficiaries of the assistance, as well as to donors (and the sources of funding behind them).
For example, in years’ past, a disaster would occur and there would be an outpouring of generosity (whether public or private). And peoples’ attention would turn quickly to the next world event. That is no longer the case in this day of globalized communication. Formal as well as informal media follow the aftermath of disasters and serve to shine a light on humanitarian assistance efforts. The public- at-large holds us all accountable – NGOs, donors, UN agencies, local governments and others – and rightly so.
To the extent that we have a good story to tell – that we have adhered to the Sphere Handbook principles – we can expect continued public support. However, to the extent that stories of graft, incompetence, diverted resources or the like dominate the communication, we can expect public support to diminish. For us, as a donor reliant upon tax payer dollars, maintaining strong public support is essential for us to be able to garner the humanitarian resources we need.
With respect to the major emerging issues that have been included in this edition – that of cash transfers, civil-military relations, and early recovery—I would like to note how very timely all of these elements are for USAID. Each of these has also become a bigger part of our disaster response programs.
For example, beginning in 2010, for the first time our Office of Food For Peace has been given the authority, in certain situations, to use Disaster Assistance funds to respond to emergency food needs through the provision of cash transfers. This adds a new tool to our food aid response toolbox, as we are no longer limited to only providing in-kind food.
We recognize, as you have, the need for the Sphere Handbook to be a living document. As time goes on, we continue to learn more about disaster response practices, to encounter new types of situations, and to benefit from new technologies and opportunities. And thus we appreciate the efforts over the past year or so to revise the Handbook, and especially all the work that both of you – Walter and Paul – provided in leading the effort.
Evidence of successful humanitarian work is lives saved, followed by improved opportunities and resources so that communities can be prosperous and secure long after we are gone. This is the key reason why humanitarian efforts need the Sphere Handbook’s professional, experiential guidance. Again, as USAID’s Administrator reminds us, “Let’s focus on effectiveness and results.”
Thank you, again, for the opportunity for USAID to be here. We look forward to continuing our partnership with all of you to make the principles established by the Sphere Project a reality in all our programs.