What is Sphere?

The Humanitarian Charter

Protection Principles

Core Humanitarian Standard

Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene Promotion

Food Security and Nutrition

Shelter and Settlement





The Sphere Handbook is marking its 20th anniversary with the publication of this fourth edition. It is the result of an intense year-long mobilisation of humanitarian actors around the globe and reflects two decades of experience using the standards in front-line operations, policy development and advocacy to uphold principled quality and accountability.

With a clear, rights-based framework, the Handbook builds on the legal and ethical foundations of humanitarianism with pragmatic guidance, global good practice and compiled evidence to support humanitarian staff wherever they work.

Sphere holds a unique place in the sector and in the constantly evolving humanitarian landscape. This edition was clearly informed by the international commitments made at the first World Humanitarian Summit in 2016, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and other global initiatives.

However, even as the policy landscape continues to evolve, we know that the immediate survival needs of people in conflict and disasters remain largely the same wherever crisis strikes. Sphere supports and contributes to global and local policy processes by recalling the fundamental necessity to provide accountable assistance to help people survive, recover and rebuild their lives with dignity.

Sphere’s strength and global reach lie in the fact that it belongs to all. This sense of ownership is renewed every few years, when the standards are reviewed and revised by the users themselves. It is a moment when we collectively restate our commitments and agree on improved action to make sure that practitioners have the best information available to them wherever they may work. This makes Sphere a core reference and a reminder of the fundamental importance of human dignity and the right of people to participate fully in decisions that affect them.

Sphere is one of the foundations of humanitarian work. It is the starting point for new humanitarian actors and a standing reference for experienced staff, providing guidance on priority actions and where to find more detailed technical information. Our standards partners provide even more support in specific sectors beyond Sphere to help people recover and thrive.

This edition benefits from the input of thousands of people working with more than 450 organisations in at least 65 countries around the world. The global reach reflects experience from diverse contexts, extraordinary challenges and different types of actors. These standards would not exist without the unwavering commitment of so many of you. You have the thanks of our sector for your contributions during the revision and, indeed, over the past two decades.

We look forward to continuing this important work and learning together with you as you use this Handbook.

Martin McCann
Sphere Board Chair
Christine Knudsen
Executive Director


The Shelter and Settlement chapter is dedicated to the memory of Graham Saunders, author of this chapter in the 2004 and 2011 editions and advisor in the early development of the 2018 edition.

Graham was a true humanitarian and a champion of the Shelter sector. His vision, leadership and endless energy have been instrumental in putting humanitarian shelter issues on the map and shaping the field for future generations of shelter practitioners. He continuously strived to improve our practice and professionalise the sector. He will be greatly missed as a pioneer, professional and friend.

This edition of The Sphere Handbook is the result of the most diverse and far-reaching consultation process in the history of Sphere. Nearly 4,500 online comments were received from 190 organisations, and more than 1,400 people participated in 60 in-person events hosted by partners in 40 countries. Sphere gratefully acknowledges the scale and breadth of the contributions made, including from national, local and international NGOs, national authorities and ministries, Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, universities, UN organisations and individual practitioners.

The revision process was coordinated by the Sphere office. Individual chapters were developed by lead authors with cross-sectoral support from designated thematic experts and resource persons from the humanitarian sector. The majority of the authors and thematic experts were put forward by their home organisations, dedicating their time and effort as an in-kind contribution to the sector.

Writing groups and reference groups were established to support the authors and thematic experts in their work. Sphere acknowledges the valuable contribution of all these individuals throughout 2017 and 2018. A full list of all working group and reference group members can be found on the Sphere website, Lead authors and experts are noted below.

Foundation chapters

  • Humanitarian Charter and Annex 1: Dr Mary Picard

  • Protection Principles: Simon Russell (Global Protection Cluster) and Kate Sutton (Humanitarian Advisory Group)

  • Core Humanitarian Standard: Takeshi Komino (CWSA Japan) and Sawako Matsuo (JANIC)

Technical chapters

  • Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Promotion: Kit Dyer (NCA) and Jenny Lamb (Oxfam GB)

  • Food Security: Daniel Wang’ang’a (WVI)

  • Nutrition: Paul Wasike (Save the Children USA)

  • Shelter and Settlement: Seki Hirano (CRS) and Ela Serdaroglu (IFRC)

  • Health: Dr Durgavasini Devanath (IFRC), Dr Julie Hall (IFRC), Dr Judith Harvie (International Medical Corps), Dr Unni Krishnan (Save the Children Australia), Dr Eba Pasha (independent)

Vulnerabilities, capacities and operational settings

  • Children and child protection: Susan Wisniewski (Terre des Hommes)

  • Older people: Irene van Horssen and Phil Hand (HelpAge)

  • Gender: Mireia Cano (GenCap)

  • Gender-based violence: Jeanne Ward (independent)

  • Persons with disabilities: Ricardo Pla Cordero (Humanity and Inclusion)

  • People living with and affected by HIV: Alice Fay (UNHCR)

  • Mental health and psychosocial support: Dr Mark van Ommeren (WHO), Peter Ventevogel (UNHCR)

  • Protracted crises: Sara Sekkenes (UNDP)

  • Urban settings: Pamela Sitko (WVI)

  • Civil–military coordination: Jennifer Jalovec and Mark Herrick (WVI)

  • Environment: Amanda George and Thomas Palo (Swedish Red Cross)

  • Disaster risk reduction: Glenn Dolcemascolo and Muthoni Njogu (UNISDR)

  • Cash-based assistance and markets: Isabelle Pelly (CaLP)

  • Supply-chain management and logistics: George Fenton (Humanitarian Logistics Association)

  • Monitoring, evaluation, accountability and learning: Joanna Olsen (CRS)

Sphere Board (May 2018)

Action by Churches Together (ACT) Alliance (Alwynn Javier) * Aktion Deutschland Hilft (ADH) (Karin Settele) * CARE International (Phillipe Guiton) * CARITAS Internationalis (Jan Weuts) * Humanitarian Response Network, Canada (Ramzi Saliba) * InterAction (Julien Schopp) * The International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA) (Ignacio Packer) * International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) (David Fisher) * International Medical Corps (IMC) (Mary Pack) * The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) (Roland Schlott) * Office Africain pour le développement et la coopération (OFADEC) (Mamadou Ndiaje) * Oxfam International - Intermón (Maria Chalaux Freixa) * Plan International (Colin Rogers) * RedR International (Martin McCann) * Save the Children (Unni Krishnan) * Sphere India (Vikrant Mahajan) * The Salvation Army (Damaris Frick) * World Vision International (WVI) (Isabel Gomes).

Thanks also go to Board members who initiated and guided the revision have since left the Board: Sarah Kambarami (ACT Alliance) * Anna Garvander (Church of Sweden/LWF) * Nan Buzard (ICVA) * Barbara Mineo (Oxfam International – Intermón) * Maxime Vieille (Save the Children).


In addition to contributions from the Board organisations listed above, funding for the Handbook revision process was provided by:

Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA) * German Ministry of Foreign Affairs * Irish Aid * Australian Government – Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) * European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department (ECHO) through International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) * USAID’s Office of United States Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) * Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) through Church of Sweden * Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) * United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) * United States Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (US-PRM).

Handbook revision team

Christine Knudsen, Executive Director (Sphere)

Aninia Nadig, Advocacy and Networking Manager (Sphere)

Editors: Kate Murphy and Aimee Ansari (Translators without Borders)

Revision coordinators: Lynnette Larsen and Miro Modrusan

With support from Sphere staff:

Tristan Hale, Learning and Training Manager

Wassila Mansouri, Networking and Outreach Officer

Juan Michel, Communications Manager through September 2017

Barbara Sartore, Communications Manager from October 2017

Loredana Serban, Administration and Finance Officer

Kristen Pantano and Caroline Tinka, Interns

Online consultation support: Markus Forsberg, (PHAP)

Handbook design: Non-linear (

Copy editing, layout and production: Practical Action Publishing


Kimberly Clarke and Megan Lloyd-Laney (CommsConsult)

Significant thanks for additional support during the Handbook revision process go to James Darcy, Malcolm Johnston, Hisham Khogali, Ben Mountfield, Dr Alice Obrecht, Ysabeau Rycx, Panu Saaristo, Manisha Thomas and Marilise Turnbull.

Sphere Focal Points which organised in-person revision consultations:

ADRA Argentina (Regional consultation with ADRAs South America)

Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief (Afghanistan)

Alliance of Sphere Advocates in the Philippines (ASAP)

Amity Foundation (member of The Benevolence Standards Working Group, Focal Point for China)

BIFERD (Democratic Republic of Congo)

Community World Service Asia (Thailand and Pakistan)

Daniel Arteaga Galarza* with Secretaría de Gestión de Riesgos (Ecuador)

Dr Oliver Hoffmann* with the Sphere Focal Point for Germany

Grupo Esfera Bolivia

Grupo Esfera El Salvador

Grupo Esfera Honduras

Illiassou Adamou* with the Child Protection sub-cluster (Niger)

Indonesian Society for Disaster Management (MPBI)

Institut Bioforce (France)

InterAction (United States)

Inter-Agency Accountability Working Group (Ethiopia)

Korea NGO Council for Overseas Development Cooperation (Korea, Republic of)

Sphere Community Bangladesh (SCB)

Sphere India

Ukraine NGO Forum

UNDP Chile

*Individual focal points