x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Agencies welcome guide to humanitarian aid

Organisations that provide assistance to countries wracked by crisis welcomed a new guide to humanitarian aid.

DUBAI // Humanitarian agencies say an updated practical guide in Arabic to disaster response will help them provide faster and more efficient aid to other countries.

The revised edition of The Sphere Handbook: Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response, launched last week in Abu Dhabi, will help non-government organisations monitor and evaluate foreign aid programmes, heads of the agencies said.

In 2009, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development ranked the UAE as the world's 14th most generous donor of foreign aid measured as a percentage of the economy.

Emirati aid agencies say the book will help increase accountability and ensure those funds are spent wisely.

Donors said previous editions of the book have helped the UAE deliver effective assistance in crisis-hit countries, and they expect this version to continue providing good direction.

"The handbook has informed our response to various disaster situations, most recently those in Yemen, Pakistan and Libya," said Mohammed Khalifa Al Qamzi, the secretary general of the UAE Red Crescent Authority. "With the launch of the updated Arabic version, we can now disseminate this important information and guidance to more of our humanitarian workers."

The 203-page book outlines minimum standards in water and sanitation, food security and nutrition, shelter and non-food items, and health. It is being launched in 40 languages in several countries. The English version was launched in Geneva in April. The launch at Khalifa University on Thursday was its first in the Arab region.

"The Sphere handbook will be useful to donor organisations in the UAE in a number of ways," said Sultan Al Shamsi, the executive director of the Office for the Coordination of Foreign Aid. "As a practical guide for organisations planning to respond to humanitarian emergencies, as the basis for training programmes introducing workers to international norms and standards of humanitarian aid, and also as a reference document for those undertaking monitoring and evaluation of aid programmes."

The book outlines international laws, rights and obligations of donors, a code of conduct and protection of vulnerable communities.

It also highlights universally accepted standards, quantifies aid - including the amount of water and size of tents required by individuals - provides guidelines on adapting aid to different cultures, and helps monitor and evaluate the impact of the assistance.

However, aid agencies conceded that complying to standards was not always easy.

"Providing humanitarian aid to victims of emergencies, whether caused by natural disasters or conflict, is always difficult, especially when the numbers of people affected are very large and essential infrastructure has been destroyed," Mr Al Shamsi said. "It may not always be possible to achieve the standards to 100 per cent, but it is important that all organisations are working towards a common goal."

The Government and Emirati organisations gave nearly Dh9 million in foreign aid in 2009. Yemen, one of the biggest recipients, received Dh2.8 billion. The UAE recently assisted more than 20,000 refugees at the Libya-Tunisia border with food, shelter and educational and medical facilities, according to the state news agency Wam.

"The handbook can improve the speed of response time and help aid workers understand what to do and what not to do," said Khaled Khalifa, head of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and IRIN Middle East and Asia Bureau, a humanitarian news and analysis service.

pkannan@thenational.ae