Humanitarian standards make a difference in Zimbabwe

23 April 2013 | Sphere Project

Pumping water in Zimbabwe. Photo: Simon Rawles/CAFOD

Marian Magumise (39) with baby son Suondo on her back pumps water from a borehole built by a humanitarian agency in Gokwe North, in the Midlands province of Zimbabwe. Photo: © Simon Rawles/CAFOD

A review of work done over the last three years by humanitarian agencies in Zimbabwe has shown significant progress both in raising awareness of as well as in implementing Sphere standards and other accountability tools.

"Significant work has been done and continues to be done in advancing the Sphere agenda in Zimbabwe," states the report of a comprehensive review commissioned by Trócaire, a faith-based Irish charity. The review found evidence of "efforts in the application of Sphere principles and standards in programming," mainly "at agency level".

Conducted in late 2012, the review included field visits to programs of humanitarian organizations and governmental agencies in the Harare, Manicaland, Midlands and Bulawayo provinces. Pios Ncube and Kudzanayi Mayo, respectively an independent consultant and an intern with Trócaire, carried out the review.

Although over the last three years the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe has improved, humanitarian challenges remain. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), "these include food insecurity mainly caused by drought - the impact of which is more visible in the south of the country - and sporadic outbreaks of waterborne diseases."

In addition to these, "a wide range of highly vulnerable groups such as the chronically ill, returned migrants, asylum-seekers and those in displacement-like situations continue to require humanitarian aid," the UNOCHA states.

Training bishops on humanitarian standards

In this context, "Trócaire has been at the center of supporting and promoting the Sphere agenda in Zimbabwe," the authors of the "Review of Sphere roll-out in Zimbabwe" say.

Trócaire's main humanitarian partner in the country, Caritas Zimbabwe, appointed a "Sphere focal person" in each of its eight dioceses. They ensure the mainstreaming of Sphere principles and standards in programming as well as the conformity of monitoring and evaluation tools.

Given the crucial role of policy-makers, Caritas Zimbabwe also built close working relationships with the country's Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare. Internally, and with a view to build buy-in "at policy and strategic level," some of the organization's Board members, such as head bishops, were also trained on Sphere principles and standards.

Using Sphere standards in prison

The report highlights the involvement of Zimbabwe governmental agencies in the roll-out of Sphere principles and standards.

In the city of Kadoma in the Mashonaland West Province, the local authorities have incorporated Sphere standards in the delivery of services such as water supply, sewage, public health services, housing and community services. Forty officials from the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare, the Police and the prison services, among other departments, have received training.

"Sphere in practice is evident at the Kadoma prison, which has capacity for 560 inmates," the report states. Sphere principles and standards have been used as an advocacy tool, in order to improve the prison's water supply, sanitation and hygiene systems. Some 15 sanitation workers were trained in the prison.

Rallying support within the humanitarian community

Humanitarian NGOs both international and local are committed to Sphere principles and standards, the report says. Graduates from the training of trainers course offered in 2011, which was followed by a refresher course in early 2012, have now become focal points. This core group is made of 35 humanitarian staff from 15 agencies and three governmental agencies.

According to the report, the "Sphere agenda" enjoys "full support" from the United Nations and the humanitarian community in Zimbabwe. The report mentions in particular UNICEF's financial support of Sphere-related activities and UNOCHA's advocacy in favor of implementing Sphere standards.

Next steps

However, the report acknowledges, there is still a gap when it comes to institutionalization of Sphere standards across organizations in the country. To address this, the report recommends targeting awareness-raising activities to "policy-makers and senior managers in government, church, civil society and the private sector."

Among its recommendations, the report emphasizes the need for a joint strategy to promote and implement Sphere principles and standards as well as other accountability tools.

It also suggests engaging with the national disaster management authority (the Department of Civil Protection) to define how to integrate Sphere principles and standards in Zimbabwe's disaster management policy, legislation and strategy.

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