4.1. Principles and standards

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The international community (donors, international cooperation agencies and NGOs) have worked hard to agree on and disseminate principles, standards and technical guidance and to document good and bad practices to orient humanitarian assistance and donations. Following is a summary of some of these initiatives.

  • The Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Relief (approved in 1995) was a first step in defining and clarifying a number of ethical principles in humanitarian work.
  • The SPHERE standards (launched in 1997 by a group of humanitarian NGOs and the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement) is another solid inter-agency effort to define norms to improve efficiency and coordination in humanitarian response. The SPHERE standards detail the minimum standards in disaster response (health, water, shelter, etc) that people affected by disasters have a right to expect from humanitarian assistance.
  • The European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid was signed on 18 December 2007 by the Presidents of the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union (EU) on behalf of its 27 member States. The Consensus defines a common vision for the EU in the provision of humanitarian aid the world over. Its objective is to increase coordination and promote good practices with regard to donations, clearly defines the different roles of the bodies responsible for providing aid.
  • The list of Principles and Good Practices for Humanitarian Donations, approved in 2003 by member countries of the Development Assistance Committee of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), United Nations agencies and international non-governmental entities.
  • Specifically focusing on health, the regional policy established in 1986 by the Ministers of Health of Latin American and Caribbean countries to improve coordination of humanitarian assistance in the health sector; the PAHO/WHO guide "Humanitarian Assistance in Disaster Situations, a Guide for Effective Aid"; WHO’s important effort, in collaboration with major humanitarian agencies, to publish "Guidelines for Drug Donations"; and the consortium of NGOs that promote good practice in the donation of medicines (www.drugdonations.org/).
  • The Humanitarian Accountability Partnership (HAP-International) is another international initiative that aims to promote standards and norms to measure accountability and transparency in humanitarian action, always seeking the greatest benefit of humanitarian assistance for those affected (www.hapinternational.org/).
  • The World Health Organization/Pan American Health Organization Guidelines on the Use of Foreign Field Hospitals in the Aftermath of Sudden-Impact Disasters, which recommends that field hospitals are deployed only: (a) following a declaration of emergency and a request from the health authorities of the affected country; (b) when they are integrated into the local health services system; and (c) when the respective roles and responsibilities for their installation and operational sustainment have been clearly defined.
  • The WHO Model List of Essential Medicines presents a list of minimum medicine needs for a basic health care system, listing the most appropriate, safe and cost-effective medicines for priority conditions. Priority conditions are selected on the basis of current and estimated future public health relevance, and potential for safe and cost-effective treatment.

These and other initiatives show that substantial progress has been made to improve humanitarian assistance in times of disaster.