By Jorge Nuño Mayer
Secretary General, Caritas Europa

On the occasion of the launch of the SPHERE HANDBOOK - 2011 edition

Dear representatives from the European Commission
Dear representatives from EU Permanent Representations
Dear colleagues from the ICRC, IFRC, the UN, the NGO community and VOICE
Dear friends from Caritas

As Secretary General of Caritas Europa, and on behalf of our participating organisations – the Red Cross and VOICE – I have the honour to welcoming you to this launch of the revised Sphere Handbook, which is the flagship publication of one of the leading quality and accountability initiatives in the sector of humanitarian aid.

This day marks an important moment for the humanitarian community. After two years of hard work going into the revision process itself – with some 650 experts and academia from about 300 organisations around the world contributing – this process has now come to an end and the final product is ready to see the light of day.

The revision of the Handbook is timely as the humanitarian landscape is fast changing. Humanitarian Aid and its underlying principles of independence, non-discrimination and impartiality – as stipulated in the Sphere Humanitarian Charter – are more and more threatened and undermined by comprehensive political and security approaches to crisis and disasters. The Humanitarian Charter in the Sphere Handbook has been re-written to reflect on these new challenges and hence the Charter strongly affirms three key humanitarian principles that give fuller substance to the humanitarian imperative:

1. the right to life with dignity,
2. the right to receive humanitarian assistance,
3. and the right to protection and security.

Based on the emerging consensus that protection of the population should be a major concern for all humanitarian agencies, a new chapter on protection of populations has been included in the revised Handbook. Caritas welcomes this new development. We will of course hear more about these recent changes in the presentation of the Handbook and the following panel discussion with key experts from the Red Cross, VOICE and Caritas participating.

Sphere is normative for Caritas and the humanitarian community, and marks a dramatic improvement in the standard of humanitarian responses over the last 10-15 years. In our Caritas network Sphere plays an important role in project planning and design, contingency planning, monitoring and evaluation and even advocacy. The process is an initiative of the sector and self- regulatory, but in retrospect, for Caritas and for a large group of humanitarian actors, it was the right enabling environment to encourage broad ownership.

Caritas was a founder member of Sphere and continues to be an active member of the Sphere board. Caritas has also been actively involved in the revision of the Sphere Handbook, and apart from the Brussels launch, is co-hosting this event today in Geneva, Nairobi, and Melbourne.

From now on the challenge will be to make active use of the learning which has been so widely shared in the sector and incorporated into this handbook and to stay firm on the humanitarian principles, which guide and underpin our approach. This will have to be taken up in our day-to-day operations and contact with the people who suffer from situations of conflict and disaster. Let me conclude by saying that the Caritas Confederation is fully committed to Sphere as a tool and a process to continually improving the quality of humanitarian responses, which is in the end to serve humanity.

With this I want to officially open the launch and I am very much looking forward to an informative and enriching exchange during this afternoon.