International Standards for Humanitarian Aid: HAP and Sphere
Peace Boat Disaster Relief Volunteer Centre Programme Officer Maho Takahashi participated in the Training of Trainers (ToT) for the “Sphere Project” held between October 20-26 in Seoul, Korea.
Though not yet widely known in Japan, the Sphere Project sets minimum standards in humanitarian response for NGOs and NPOs involved in this field around the world. The Sphere Project was initiated in 1997 by a group of humanitarian NGOs and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, aiming to improve the quality and accountability of actions taken during disaster response. This is based on the main principles that those affected by disaster or conflict have a right to life with dignity and, therefore, a right to assistance; and second, that all possible steps should be taken to alleviate human suffering arising out of disaster or conflict. As well as setting out guidance on these basic principles of humanitarian response, it also provides a handbook and minimum standards on technical aspects such as water supply, sanitation and hygiene promotion, food security and nutrition, shelter, settlement and non-food items, and health action.
When the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami hit, Japan became the recipient of assistance for the first time in decades. This raised a number of issues with the coordination of different aid groups from overseas, including UN agencies. One of the issues was the language barrier. In Ishonomaki where Peace Boat’s efforts have been focused, for example, there were not enough bilingual or non-Japanese staff to sufficiently accommodate volunteers coming from overseas.
Similarly, there was an issue with “setting priorities under emergency conditions,” which were not well defined and determined ad hoc. The flexibility to accommodate changing needs in an emergency is something that should be appreciated. However, the speed of the changes was too fast to accommodate many organizations from overseas. The lack of shared understanding about the standards and action plans made it difficult to set common goals and priorities.
Having learned from these experiences, international NGOs have started giving trainings of the Sphere Project and “HAP Standards” (*) to their staff members, arising from an initiative by CWS-A/P (Church World Service-Asia/Pacific), a key partner organisation of Peace Boat. CWS-A/P has taken great steps to expand understanding and implementation of Sphere in the region by organizing and conducting various trainings. Peace Boat has had the opportunity to participate in these trainings in Bangkok in September 2011 and Tokyo in February 2012.
Along with the “Sphere Project”, HAP is another major international standard of humanitarian response. It gives guidance primarily on accountability to the victims of disasters, the operations of aid organizations, and relationship building with beneficiaries (disaster survivors) during the aid efforts.
The aim of this ToT was to promote the “Sphere Project” in Korea, and staff members of 7 different Korean organisations and the Japanese NGO JEN, which is also active in Ishinomaki, participated. Peace Boat’s Maho Takahashi acted as one of the trainers for the programme.
Many of the Korean organizations’ past experience focused on work in developing countries, and thus their practice was also based on this assumption. However, after learning about the case of Japan, they also started to see the potential needs of also working within their own country.
Of course standards alone cannot solve all issues related to aid. However, the bigger the disaster, the greater the need to collaborate and coordinate with numerous individuals and organizations with different roles, including those from overseas. Peace Boat has been making efforts to accommodate international volunteers and work together with international agencies in its relief and recovery efforts. Nonetheless, this training held in Korea has emphasized to us that there is yet much to be done to strengthen and expand the overall base of humanitarian response in Japan.