The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a country four times bigger than France, has gone through recurrent humanitarian crises for the last 20 years. In that context, Boniface N. Deagbo has been promoting Sphere standards for almost a decade.
Boniface N. Deagbo holds a Doctorate in environmental studies and teaches project design and management as well as natural resources management and sustainable development at the Institut Facultaire de Développement in Kinshasa. He worked for a government agency until he joined Caritas Congo ASBL as emergency project manager in 2006.
"Caritas introduced me to the Sphere standards from the beginning," recalls Deagbo. Later on, he participated in a training of trainers course in Niamey, Niger in February 2008.
"After the Niamey training, the participants from Central Africa got together and chose me to be the Sphere focal point in the region. It was then that I got involved in promoting the Sphere standards."
"I took on the job, but I must admit that it was difficult to get information on the trainers and activities across the region within the framework of the Sphere Project. Which is why I decided to concentrate on the Democratic Republic of the Congo."
From 2008 until 2015, Deagbo was the Coordinator of Caritas' emergency relief department. Today, he is their second Deputy Executive Secretary in charge of programme quality.
As the Sphere focal point on behalf of Caritas Congo in the DRC, Deagbo has delivered plenty of training activities and promoted the Sphere Handbook - of which he has a permanent stock in his office - as well as supporting tools. "Today, the UN agencies come to me for information on the Sphere project," he says.
Deagbo was instrumental in the launch of the Sphere Handbook 2011 edition and in making it possible for the film "Humanitarian Standards in Context" to feature a DRC case study.
Sphere's impact in the work of Caritas Congo
What impact do the Sphere standards have in the work done by Caritas Congo? "The use of the Sphere standards has had an important and very visible impact on Caritas Congo's humanitarian interventions," says Deagbo.
"The Sphere Handbook targets two things: the quality and the accountability of humanitarian response. First, our response to affected people and communities must be a high quality one. We shouldn't simply respond because people are distressed and suffering! Our assistance must fully measure up to their needs. Secondly, to help is good, but we must also be accountable; this commitment is of vital importance in humanitarian response."
"So our using the Sphere standards has had an enormous impact on the quality and accountability of our humanitarian work. Today, Caritas Congo is a prominent actor in the field: in Kinshasa, Kivu and all the provinces. It is why the government as well as national and international organisations all refer to us. The fact that we use the Sphere standards in our interventions, thereby ensuring their quality and our accountability to both the beneficiaries and our donors, is what explains this impact."
Twenty years of crises
Today, with some 2,000 staff and many more volunteers, Caritas Congo is active in three main areas: sustainable development, health and emergency relief.
"Caritas Congo's role is to coordinate, build capacity, mobilise resources, represent and advocate, while interventions in the field are carried out by diocesan Caritas agencies," Deagbo explains. "Each year, we deliver assistance to some 2,000 displaced families, refugees and returnees."
"Our emergency department is responsible for disaster-prevention, prepares communities on how to cope should disaster strike, how to behave, what to do."
"This service builds the capacity of Caritas workers and executives working in humanitarian response. We also engage in education, the reintegration of ex-combatants within the framework of peace consolidation efforts as well as look after migrants."
The DRC has suffered from cyclical crises since 1994. "The DRC has been in a situation of humanitarian emergency for over 20 years. First there was the arrival of refugees from Rwanda after the genocide. Then we had internally displaced people following the 1996-97 internal conflict. These recurrent crises have continued up to the present day."
"Today, the DRC is undergoing a crisis caused by Ugandan rebels in the Béni zone of North Kivu, where we find many people displaced by violence. There are different Maï-Maï groups operating in the Eastern Province and Kivu. Some Rwandan rebels are still at large in the bush. A serious conflict is raging between the Batsoa and Bantu people (known as Pygmies) in Katanga in the South. And there are also Central African Republic and Burundi refugees in, respectively, the North and East of the country. And on top of all these humanitarian crises, there has been a resurgence of diseases like cholera in the ex-Eastern Province of Katanga."
"These are the main humanitarian crises affecting the RDC today to which we must respond," concludes Deagbo.
The three main challenges
According to Deagbo, the main challenge to further disseminate the Sphere standards is to obtain the government's commitment to their use. "As we all know, it is the state that holds the primary responsibility in humanitarian response. Thus, we are currently working with the state authorities. We have even offered to train officials of the Social Affairs Ministry in the use of the standards. We'll be organising this training in 2016."
Another challenge is that field workers are not sufficiently familiar with the standards. "Managers in Kinshasa, Goma and Lubumbashi, for example, do know about Sphere, but they aren't present in the field every day. Those who are are the evaluators, the distributers, the record-keepers. And if they're not familiar enough with the standards, that's a problem. So it's essential to train the field workers." The third challenge is the size of the country. "Supervising the use of the Sphere standards in a country like the DRC, which is a sub-continent four times the size of France, a country in which there are thousands of organisations, is not a piece of cake. That's why I consider it absolutely vital to invest in identifying and training humanitarian field workers and to support focal points with the aim of building a solid Sphere network in different parts of Africa."