Sensitizing Humanitarians on the Importance of Quality and Accountability

Sensitizing Humanitarians on the Importance of Quality and Accountability


Humanitarian efforts have evolved over the years. From simple generosity of helping those in need, humanitarian efforts on a global level have become intricate with many factors such as the amount of funds, the types of aid, and how aid reaches communities in need. The process of providing relief during emergencies needs to be efficient and appropriate to the needs of those communities requiring assistance. However, it is not always these priorities that drive relief efforts. In attempts to help, governments and organizations are capable of not giving aid to those who need it most, not providing the right type of relief, creating or worsening local conflicts, and misappropriation of funds and other resources.

Quality and accountability enter the equation only when the desire to help is accompanied by the desire to be comprehensively responsible to all stakeholders involved. This aspect must be incorporated into the system from the beginning; it must be well-planned and based on the right factors. Success is measured in many ways, depending on the standards and expectations set from the beginning. Is success measured in number of items distributed, the number of people reached, or the amount of money spent? Perhaps. However, when quality and accountability are factors, the previous questions’ answers are only about output, not about success.

Quality and accountability in humanitarian efforts does not come naturally or automatically. An organization must first define and understand what the two terms mean and set and commit to achieving them. For example, taking into account Pakistan’s current flood situation, if an organization has funds to respond in one district of Sindh, the response should be planned according to needs determined by assessments and participation of the affected communities. For what should the funds be used, food, drinking water, shelter? To which villages should the response be targeted; which individuals are in most need? How will the aid be distributed; what cultural practices could negatively impact the distribution? How can we get feedback from the community? How will the distribution be monitored and reported? These are only a few questions that need to be asked.

Church World Service-Pakistan/Afghanistan aims to achieve quality and accountability in its work. It follows the international standards of Sphere and HAP. After years of also promoting these two initiatives through workshops and technical assistance, the organization decided that the issue of quality and accountability needs to be addressed at both the national and local levels. CWS-P/A is promoting Sphere and HAP as complements to each other. Based on experiences of observing lack of quality and accountability during previous emergencies as well as from input and questions from participants in workshops, CWS-P/A found evidence that in Pakistan sensitization to the concepts of quality and accountability is lacking. During the 2010 flood response, CWS-P/A is fully dedicated to promoting and advocating as well as providing training and technical assistance despite a lack of funding for quality and accountability initiatives.


Beyond the idea of working toward a more informed humanitarian community, CWS-P/A through its initial activities realizes how significant and timely the quality and accountability initiative is. During the first several workshops planned on Sphere and HAP, the team reported several observations. A majority of the participants had no or very limited previous knowledge of Sphere or HAP. The orientation session was the first time they had discussed quality and accountability as an aspect of their work. More supportive of the need for quality and accountability was the response from participants. Several indicated that they see the solutions to problems they currently face within the standards of Sphere and HAP. In other words, the process of identifying challenges and solutions began for the represented organizations during the half day session. These participants now have the basic knowledge to consider issues of community participation, correctly identifying needs, and complaints handling. Participants also received a copy of the Sphere handbook and HAP Humanitarian Accountability and Quality Management Standard to refer to during their work. One step at a time, CWS-P/A is promoting quality and accountability with interested organizations which will ultimately benefit the served communities. Through more in-depth training and technical support, CWS-P/A will be able to assist organizations achieve higher levels of quality and accountability.

The team also contacted graduates of previous Sphere and HAP workshops to remind them and sensitize them to use quality and accountability during this response. Continued support will be given to previously trained individuals to ensure commitment to quality and accountability. Immediate response included the demand for more Sphere Handbooks.


Addressing this concept during Pakistan’s worst disaster presents challenges for the team; however, it is the right time. When millions of dollars in funding will be used to help the affected communities, these funds should be used transparently and in appropriate ways that provide the most benefit to worst affected families. CWS-P/A acknowledges that several platforms exist for promoting the importance of incorporating quality and accountability standards. Not only has CWS-P/A invited organizations for workshops, the team is proactively engaging humanitarian networks such as coordination and cluster meetings. The discussion at a recent meeting with the Pakistan Humanitarian Forum, to which CWS-P/A is a member, led to the forum deciding to establish a working group for quality and accountability. Working groups are often formed to address important aspects of relief work in Pakistan, such as the existing group that addresses gender issues. This immediate step by the PHF to make a working group directly resulted from the discussion and shows that quality and accountability in Pakistan, even at the Islamabad level, needs to be initiated and cannot happen without effort. Although the degree of impact this will have on this and future responses will not be immediately known; however, CWS-P/A’s efforts are laying the foundation that is required to bring about quality and accountability at the national level.

Other outcomes from engaging various organizations and forums also indicate that new steps for quality and accountability are taking place. At the general coordination meeting, quality and accountability was addressed; this, too, was timely because they are currently accepting Emergency Response Fund proposals. The criteria currently address sufficient quantity; however, good quality is not included. The chair of the meeting said this issue will be addressed with cluster heads as decisions are taken by them. Also, the U.N. requested to combine efforts of CWS-P/A’s quality and accountability initiatives with their session on gender. In other words, the topic of quality and accountability is being received well and as an important aspect to consider in humanitarian work. Both HAP member and non-member organizations appreciate the HAP standard; similar response is felt from organizations using and new to Sphere.

HAP Members

Aside from CWS-P/A, other organizations are also HAP members; however, they met together for the first time to address quality and accountability challenges and opportunities for the flood response. Eleven organizations committed to quality and accountability shared experiences and identified challenges. Some of the main issues discussed were national Disaster Risk Reduction, mainstreaming quality and accountability at organizational level through capacity building of staff, impartiality and targeting communities, and accessibility to affected women. Factors such as governance issues, delayed response, poor infrastructure, environmental degradation, and lawlessness are all human factors that can worsen the effects of the natural disaster. Efforts to review lessons learned and advocate for quality and accountability at the national level require joint efforts of HAP members. Field level compliance verification against globally accepted standards is also a necessary step to ensuring quality and accountability. The participating organizations committed their support to CWS-P/A’s efforts to promote quality and accountability.

The Next Steps

The next steps are with individual organizations to make quality and accountability an integral part of their work. CWS-P/A continues to introduce and reinforce these concepts through workshops, technical assistance, and by promoting and advocating within existing networks and forums. Requests for future training and technical support will help guide the course of achieving steps toward a higher quality and more accountable humanitarian response in Pakistan. The most important aspect is advocating for the need for standards for quality and accountability at government and organizational level as well as within local communities. Some specific action points include:

  • Engage government authorities on Q & A issues, through NDMA meetings
  • Develop key Q & A radio messages and other advocacy and promotional material
  • Mobilize former Sphere graduates through a lessons learned exercise focusing on steps to promote and implement Sphere standards more rigorously
  • Initiate a research on the impact of Q & A initiatives in Pakistan
  • Propose joint assessment of Q & A
  • Develop key Q & A messages appropriate to different target audiences (such as government authorities, media, etc). This will be done with the technical assistance from Sphere Office and HAP office in Geneva. Key messages will allow a more consistent approach to promoting Q & A to the different target audiences.


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