The Application of Sphere standards in informal settlements


Revisiting the Sphere standards: comparing the revised Sphere standards to living standards in three urban informal settlements in Nairobi, Kenya Patel, R and Chaudhuri, J (Journal of International Humanitarian Action 2019)

Open Access Link here

Abstract: Humanitarian actors have long used the Sphere Handbook and its minimum standards to guide operational practice. The new revision attempts to update these standards partly to address urban crises that have challenged the humanitarian system. Yet, these indicators have never been based on a substantial body of evidence or data from the varied living standards found in cities or specifically informal settlements. This study aims to contextualise the Sphere standards for urban populations by comparing a sample of the revised key indicators to living standards in three urban informal settlements of Nairobi, Kenya, during a non-crisis period to examine their relevance and applicability, and discuss the implications.

Retrospective analysis of data sourced from randomised household surveys of three informal settlements in Nairobi across a range of living standards including a convenience sample of Sphere metrics is quantitatively compared to the newly revised Sphere standards.

The results show that while some standards are met, many of the urban poor in these settlements live far below the prescribed minimum standards across many key sectors including water, sanitation, shelter, and food security. The data also reveal variations between and within individual informal settlements.

The Sphere standards are not informed enough by informality and remain largely aspirational for some populations and consensus rather than evidence-based. The revised handbook has made significant strides in highlighting the need for contextualisation, market approaches, and incorporating stakeholder input. The new Sphere standards must be placed into context for use in the new urban agenda realigning humanitarian actions towards more locally contextualised and driven practice.

The paper was also cross-posted here: SSRN ALNAP