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International humanitarian standards should guide NZ



22 October 2015

International humanitarian standards should guide New Zealand emergency responses

New Zealand provisions for civil defence and emergency responses need to reflect internationally agreed Sphere guidelines for humanitarian responses.

This is the message Catholic development and aid agency Caritas is taking to Parliament today, where the Regulations Review Committee is hearing submissions into their Inquiry into Parliament’s legislative response to future national emergencies.

Caritas Humanitarian Programmes Coordinator Mark Mitchell says the Sphere guidelines are internationally agreed guidelines that provide a framework for best practice in emergencies.

They advise on how humanitarian agencies engage with people affected by emergencies and other stakeholders; set minimum standards for humanitarian assistance to help people live in dignity; and they have recently had protection measures added.

New Zealand non-governmental organisations are required to apply Sphere guidelines when humanitarian assistance provided in international emergencies with funding from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

“However, the Sphere guidelines are not referred to in New Zealand legislation, nor in the Guide to the National Civil Defence Emergency Management Plan. We think they should be,” says Mr Mitchell, who has 20 years’ experience in emergency response and long-term recovery. He says the guidelines should also be reflected in any special legislation responding to future national emergencies.

Mr Mitchell says that while humanitarian aid agencies are not always able to meet those standards in every possible situation, they set the minimum that is considered able to support basic human rights to food, shelter and safety.

“From my experience, in places such as Nepal, Vanuatu and the Philippines, the standards we were aiming for are higher than many prevalent in Christchurch after the February 2011 earthquake.”

Caritas is also calling for clear protocols on the use of military personnel and resources in civil emergency responses, and ensuring that legislation enables participation of affected communities and protects the most vulnerable, especially children.

Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand will be making an oral submission to the Regulations Review Committee at 12.00 on Thursday 22 October.


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