Sphere minimum standards

Associated with the Sphere core standards are the technical minimum standards for response.

The intention was to define the minimum acceptable measures of aid that should be provided - a baseline. Therefore, exceeding the minimum standards in terms of the level of assistance provided to disaster-affected populations (though usually possible) is, in effect, good practice too. These minimum expected standards cover four key areas of response:

  • Water supply, sanitation and hygiene promotion (providing enough safe water for drinking and washing, managing waste and promoting hygiene practices)
  • Food security and nutrition (providing enough quality food of the right nutritional and calorific value)
  • Shelter, settlement and non-food items (providing shelter, adequate housing, clothing and blankets that provide dignity, security, personal safety and protection from the climate)
  • Health action (anticipating and managing illness and disease that often occurs in post-disaster conditions)

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Minimum standards are not without critiques. This criticism includes:

  • The generic or prescriptive nature of some standards means sometimes practitioners are reluctant to adapt them to diverse socio-cultural and economic contexts
  • When challenges to application are encountered, it is not always clear how to balance, prioritise or control adjustments and maintain standards
  • The drive to achieve standards may come to dominate accountability and lead to limited innovation or progress and not recognise less tangible impacts.
  • Failure to meet standards may lead to reputational damage and liability
  • Standardisation is based on ‘Western’ benchmarks
  • Training in Sphere standards is more frequent for senior staff


Mohamed, A., Ofteringer, R. (2015) ‘Rahmatan lil-‘alamin (A mercy to all creation): Islamic Voices in the Debate on Humanitarian Principles’. International Review of the Red Cross [online] 97 (897-898), 371-394. available from https://locate.coventry.ac.uk/primo-explore/fulldisplay?docid=TN_cambridgeS1816383115000697&context=PC&vid=COV_VU1&search_scope=Primo_Central&tab=remote&lang=en_US

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Humanitarian Action, Response and Relief

Coventry University