Snapshot on Key Humanitarian Principles

Snapshot on: The humanitarian system, mechanisms and principles

What does this 2-pager contain?

Basic information and links to resources to refresh knowledge on key humanitarian principles, the IASC transformative agenda and its cluster approach

Links to resources to become more aware of a key cross-cutting issue: accountability to affected population (AAP) principles

Figure 1: The “humanitarian system”. Extracted from the HTP module 2

Key resources:

ü HTP module 2

ü SPHERE standard handbook

ü IASC reference module on the humanitarian Program Cycle IASC cluster approach guide

ü IASC AAP principles and guidance to assist with the AAP commitments implementation.

Humanitarian system

The so-called ‘humanitarian system’ comprises of various actors at national and international levels plus various mechanisms and processes, which contribute to a collective effort to support and protect all those affected by an emergency. It is a ‘complex network’ (Figure 1), with different features depending on the context. In any emergencies, response will start at the local level. Individuals, businesses, community groups and local government will be the first to act. Their action is then supported by sub-national and national-level support and potentially international involvement.

à For more on working together for effective emergency response: see HTP module 2 (link here).

Humanitarian principles

· The ‘humanitarian system’ is characterized by guiding principles that arise from international humanitarian law.

· Key humanitarian principles: humanity, impartiality, independence and neutrality define the Humanitarian Charter.

· The humanitarian system is also guided by core humanitarian standards defined by the Sphere Project (Figure 2 and link here).

· This Charter expresses the global shared conviction that all people affected by disaster and conflict have a right to receive protection and assistance to ensure the basic conditions for life with dignity.

Humanitarian coordination

Whatever the context, and whatever the specific mix of actors involved, there is always going to be a need for some level of coordination in order to maximize the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the effort. Coordination is thus a means to creating an enabling environment where independent organizations can collaborate as necessary according to the specific context.

The Inter Agency Standing Committee (IASC) is an inter-agency forum established in 1992 for coordination, policy development and decision-making. By developing common policies, guidelines and standards, the IASC aims to ensure a coherent inter-agency response to complex emergencies and disasters.

Figure 2: The core humanitarian standard and principles defined by SPHERE

The IASC comprises the main UN agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), NGO umbrella groups including the International Council of Voluntary Agencies, whose membership includes national NGOs.

IASC Cluster Approach

As part of the humanitarian reform process, 11 clusters were established in key response areas in order to “strengthen predictability, response capacity, coordination and accountability by strengthening partnerships in key sectors of humanitarian response”.

In December 2011, the IASC Principals agreed to a set of actions under the IASC Transformative Agenda to improve emergency response overall, building on the 2005 Humanitarian Reform. The reforms are aimed at simplifying processes and mechanisms, improving inter-agency communication and collaboration, and building confidence in the system as a whole, from the immediate response to longer-term planning.

The cluster approach is not the only solution to emergency coordination. In some cases, it may coexist with other forms of national or international coordination, and its application must take into account the specific needs of a country and the context.

à For more on the IASC cluster approach link here.

à For more on nutrition cluster coordination see NiE toolkit folder 3.Coordination (link here).

Accountability to Affected Population (AAP)

Under the Transformative Agenda, the IASC Principals committed to the ultimate objective of accountability to affected people by ensuring that emergency responses deliver assistance to those in need as the result of effective planning and timely decision-making. In December 2011, the IASC Principals endorsed 5 commitments (link here):

1.       Leadership/Governance: Demonstrate their commitment to AAP, are integrated into country strategies, program proposals, monitoring and evaluations, etc.

2.       Transparency: Provide accessible and timely information to affected populations onorganizational procedures, structures and processes that affect them to ensure that they can make informed decisions and choices.

3.       Feedback and complaints: To actively seek the views of affected populations to improve policy and practice in programming, ensuring that feedback and complaints mechanisms are streamlined, appropriate and robust enough to deal with complaints about breaches in policy and stakeholder dissatisfaction.

4.       Participation: To enable affected populations to play an active role in the decision-making processes that affect them through the establishment of clear guidelines and practices to engage them appropriately and ensure that the most marginalized and affected are represented and have influence.

5.       Design, monitoring and evaluation: Design, monitor and evaluate the goals and objectives of programs with the involvement of affected populations.

à For guidance on how to implement AAP commitments see IASC guidance on AAP commitments implementation (link here).