The first responders in any emergency are crisis-affected people, community-based and local organizations, and Government agencies. Central Governments may also request external support from regional partners and/or the international humanitarian system. While national legal systems are the main regulatory frameworks for protecting disaster-affected people, provision of international humanitarian assistance is guided by the UN General Assembly resolution 46/182 (1991) “Strengthening of the coordination of humanitarian emergency assistance of the United Nations”. The resolution provides the framework for emergency relief and informs the work of the humanitarian system today. It lays out 12 guiding principles for humanitarian action and enshrines the core humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, and impartiality. Subsequent UN General Assembly resolutions on strengthening the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance have reinforced General Assembly resolution 46/182 and expanded the core humanitarian principles to also include operational independence (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Humanitarian Principles

Humanitarian action is also regulated by binding and non-binding international humanitarian and human rights law. The 1949 Geneva Conventions and the Additional Protocols adopted in 1977 and 2005 form the core of international humanitarian law, which regulates the conduct of armed conflict and seeks to limit its effects. The Geneva Conventions have been ratified by all States and are universally applicable.


The regulation of international humanitarian action serves three main functions:
  • It safeguards the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity.
  • It guarantees fundamental rights and protection for disaster-affected communities.
  • It rationalizes the roles and responsibilities between humanitarian actors.

Additional regulation of international humanitarian action in Asia and the Pacific can be understood according to three categories: (a) non-binding regulatory agreements between States; (b) binding regulatory agreements between States; and (c) voluntary guidelines governing humanitarian action by State and non-state actors. The Guide does not list all the regulatory documents that could be applicable in a disaster. Instead, it focuses on those most relevant to humanitarian action in the region.


Non-binding agreements between States that also govern international humanitarian action for the purposes of effective disaster response include:

  1. United Nations General Assembly resolution 46/182
  2. International Federation of the Red Cross Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) Guidelines for the Domestic Facilitation and Regulation of International Disaster Relief and Initial Recovery Assistance
  3. World Customs Organization Resolution on the Role of Customs in Natural Disaster Relief
  4. FRANZ Agreement for the South Pacific region.

United Nations General Assembly Resolution 46/182, referred to as GA 46/182, defines the role of the UN in coordinating international humanitarian assistance when a Government requests external support. The resolution establishes a number of UN mechanisms to strengthen the effectiveness of international humanitarian action; namely, the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), the Emergency Relief Coordinator (ERC), the Inter- Agency Standing Committee (IASC) and coordinated appeals for international assistance. GA 46/182 was unanimously adopted by UN Member States in 1991.


“Sovereignty, territorial integrity and national unity of States shall be fully respected in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations. In this context, humanitarian assistance should be provided with the consent of the affected country and, in principle, on the basis of a request by the affected country.”

International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) Guidelines for the Domestic Facilitation and Regulation of International Disaster Relief and Initial Recovery Assistance (also known as the IDRL guidelines) are a set of recommendations for Governments on how to prepare national laws and plans so that they coordinate with and facilitate international disaster law. The IDRL Guidelines address issues including requesting and receiving international assistance; issuing visas and work permits to international humanitarian personnel; customs clearance of relief items; taxation; and obtaining domestic legal personality or legal status. The IDRL guidelines were unanimously adopted by all States party to the Geneva Conventions and the RCRC Movement at the 30th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in 2007, and they have subsequently been recognized in consecutive UN General Assembly resolutions.

World Customs Organization (WCO) Resolution on the Role of Customs in Natural Disaster Relief highlights the need for disaster preparedness in customs administrations. It encourages States to implement measures expediting and facilitating the customs clearance of relief consignments. The Resolution was unanimously adopted by WCO Members in 2011.

FRANZ Partnership (FRANZ) is an agreement between France, Australia and New Zealand to coordinate disaster reconnaissance and relief assistance in the Pacific at the request of affected countries. FRANZ is a civilian-led arrangement that is supported by defence forces. In this arrangement, the FRANZ Partners commit to good humanitarian donorship principles

and recognize and respect the sovereignty and leading role of affected countries in responding to disasters. Leadership for the FRANZ partnership is through the respective Foreign Affairs Ministries, and the point of contact is the respective High Commission or Embassy in the affected countries. The partnership was established in 22 December 1992.


The binding agreements between States in Asia and the Pacific that regulate disaster preparedness and response action include:

  1. ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response (AADMER)
  2. SAARC Natural Disaster Rapid Response Mechanism (NDRRM)

ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response (AADMER) is a legally-binding regional multi-hazard and policy framework for cooperation, coordination, technical assistance and resource mobilization in all aspects of disaster management in the 10 ASEAN Member States. AADMER provides a mechanism for reducing the loss of life and social, economic and environmental assets, and for responding to emergencies through concerted national efforts and intensified regional and international co-operation. The AADMER was signed by ASEAN Member States in 2005 and entered into force in December 2009.

The AADMER Work Programme 2016-2020 is a holistic action plan for building a resilient ASEAN Community by reducing disaster losses and collectively responding to disasters by implementing eight Priority Programmes that cover the disaster management spectrum. The Work Programme is a collaborative platform that strengthens regional integration and promotes a people-oriented and people-centred ASEAN Community.

Through its Standard Operating Procedure for Regional Standby Arrangements and Coordination of Joint Disaster Relief and Emergency Response Operations (SASOP), the AADMER enables ASEAN Member States to mobilize and deploy resources for emergency response. The SASOP guides the actions of the ASEAN Member States and the operational

engine of the AADMER, the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management (AHA Centre), in: (1) the regional standby arrangements for disaster relief and emergency response; (2) the utilization of military and civilian personnel, transportation and communication equipment, facilities, good and services, and the facilitation of their trans-boundary movement; and (3) the co-ordination of joint disaster relief and emergency response operations.

Inspired by ASEAN’s 2013 response to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, the ASEAN Declaration on One ASEAN One Response: ASEAN Responding to Disasters as One in the Region and Outside the Region increases the speed, scale and solidarity of ASEAN’s response. The Declaration affirms the AHA Centre as the primary regional coordinating agency on disaster management and emergency response. The AHA Centre is tasked with developing the necessary protocols, procedures and standards to operationalize the Declaration, including through engagement with other relevant sectors and stakeholders in ASEAN. It was signed by ASEAN leaders on 6 September 2016.

South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Agreement on Rapid Response to Natural Disasters is a regional disaster management agreement that reinforces existing mechanisms for rapid response to disasters. The Natural Disaster Rapid Response Mechanism (NDRRM) obliges SAARC Member States to take legislative and administrative measures to implement agreement provisions. These include measures for requesting and receiving assistance; conducting needs assessments; mobilizing equipment, personnel, materials and other facilities; making regional standby arrangements, including emergency stockpiles; and ensuring quality control of relief items. The SAARC Agreement on Rapid Response to Natural Disasters was signed by SAARC Member States in 2011. It was ratified by all Member States and entered into force on 9 September 2016.


In addition to binding and non-binding agreements, a secondary body of voluntary guidelines governs relations among humanitarian actors and between humanitarian actors and disaster- affected people. These guidelines apply to a variety of audiences within the international humanitarian community. The below list focuses on some of the most important humanitarian guidelines.

  1. IASC Transformative Agenda Protocols
  2. World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) Agenda for Humanity
  3. Code of Conduct for the RCRC Movement and NGOs in Disaster Relief
  4. Sphere Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response Sphere Handbook)
  5. Core Humanitarian Standard on Quality and Accountability (CHS)
  6. Minimum Initial Service Package (MISP) on Reproductive Health in Crises
  7. IASC Operational Guidelines on the Protection of Persons in Situations of Natural Disasters
  8. Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement
  9. Oslo Guidelines on the Use of Foreign Military and Civil Defence Assets in Disaster Relief
  10. Asia-Pacific Regional Guidelines for the Use of Foreign Military Assets in Natural Disaster Response Operations
  11. Management of Dead Bodies after Disasters: Field Manual
  12. Environmental Emergencies Guidelines
  13. Disaster Waste Management Guidelines
  14. IASC Commitments on Accountability to Affected Populations (CAAP)
  15. IASC Gender Handbook in Humanitarian Action
  16. IASC Guidelines for Gender-Based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Settings
  17. IASC Principles on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by UN and non-UN Entities
  18. Community-based Complaint Mechanism Best Practice Guide

IASC Transformative Agenda Protocols are the product of efforts to strengthen humanitarian action through successive reform processes. In 2005-6, the Emergency Relief Coordinator (ERC) and the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) initiated a humanitarian reform process to improve the effectiveness of humanitarian response through greater predictability, accountability, responsibility and partnership.

One of the major adaptations of the Humanitarian Reform process was the adoption of the Cluster Approach to humanitarian coordination. The IASC Guidance Note on “Using the Cluster Approach to strengthen humanitarian response” (2006) spells out the responsibilities of global and country-level sector/cluster leads, provides guidance on application of the Cluster Approach in new emergencies, and reinforces partnerships and complementarity. Additional responsibilities for cluster leads are addressed in the “Operational Guidance on Responsibilities of Cluster/Sector Leads and UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Information Management” (2008). The guidance clarifies information management roles in a humanitarian emergency, and promotes effective information

management, facilitates situational understanding and decision-making, and ensures that information management activities support existing national information systems, standards, and local capacities.

In 2011, the IASC Principals conducted a further review of humanitarian action and in December 2011, adopted a ‘Transformative Agenda’, a set of actions to improve the humanitarian response model. Following the agreement, the Transformative Agenda Protocols were endorsed. These established the parameters for improved collective action in humanitarian emergencies. The Protocols are:

For more information: www.interagencystandingcommittee.org/iasc-transformative-agenda

World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) Agenda for Humanity identifies voluntary commitments for reducing suffering and delivering better assistance to people caught in humanitarian crises. The WHS took place in Istanbul, Turkey in May 2016 and brought together 9,000 participants, representing UN Member States, international and regional organizations, international, national and local civil society organizations, as well as the private sector and academia. In the two years leading up to the WHS, eight multi-stakeholder regional consultations, one global consultation, and numerous stakeholder- or industry- specific consultations were held, and the results contributed to shaping the WHS agenda. The Agenda for Humanity, developed by former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, was an outcome of the WHS. As a result of the WHS more than 3,500 commitments to action were generated. For more information: www.agendaforhumanity.org

One key outcome of the WHS was the Grand Bargain on Efficiency. It was first proposed by the former UN Secretary General’s High-Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing as one of the solutions to address the humanitarian financing gap. The goal of the Grand Bargain is for both donors and agencies to make changes so that aid delivery is more efficient and human and financial resources are freed up for the direct benefit of affected populations.

The Grand Bargain consists of five strategic priorities, which largely relate to headquarter- level funding and administrative arrangements, as well as five operational priorities that reflect the way humanitarian agencies should be implementing their programs. These ten priorities include reducing donor earmarking and increasing multi-year and flexible funding, ensuring greater agency transparency, expanding cash programming, strengthening localization of responses, and cutting bureaucracy through harmonised reporting requirements.

A second key outcome of the WHS was the New Way of Working. It aims to improve collaboration between humanitarian and development actors, Governments, NGOs and private sector actors. According to the New Way of Working, having diverse actors working towards collective outcomes will more effectively reduce needs, risk and vulnerabilities. Wherever possible, these collaborative efforts will reinforce and strengthen previously existing capacities at the national and local levels.

Code of Conduct for the Red Cross and Red Crescent (RCRC) Movement and Non- Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in Disaster Relief is a voluntary code adhered to by the RCRC Movement and participating NGOs. It establishes 10 principles that signatory agencies commit to follow in their disaster response work and also describes the relationships that agencies should seek with affected communities, donor Governments, host Governments and the UN system. To date, 492 separate organizations have signed the Code of Conduct. For more information: www.ifrc.org

Sphere Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response (Sphere Handbook) is an internationally recognized set of common principles and universal minimum standards for the delivery of humanitarian assistance. It improves both the quality of assistance provided to people affected by disasters as well as the accountability of humanitarian actors to the affected people, donors and partners. Sphere standards guide humanitarian action across four primary areas: (1) water supply, sanitation and hygiene promotion; (2) food security and nutrition; (3) shelter, settlement and non-food items; and (4) health action. There is also a series of Sphere companion standards, published as separate volumes, which are built on the same foundation, informed through the same process of consultation, and compiled with the same rigour as the Sphere Handbook (2011). These companion standards include:

The fourth edition of the Sphere Handbook will be released in 2018, following the most inclusive revision process in its history. For more information: www.sphereproject.org

Core Humanitarian Standard on Quality and Accountability (CHS) is the result of a global consultation process, drawing together key elements of existing humanitarian standards and commitments. It sets out Nine Commitments that organizations and individuals involved in humanitarian response can use to improve the quality and effectiveness of the assistance they provide and to facilitate greater accountability to communities and people affected by crisis (Figure 4). The CHS describes the essential elements of principled, accountable and high-quality humanitarian action. Humanitarian organizations can align their own internal procedures with the CHS and also use it as a basis for verification of performance.

Together with Sphere and Groupe URD, CHS Alliance develops, promotes, and maintains the CHS and the CHS verification scheme. Specifically, the CHS Alliance develops tools and provides trainings that ensure the quality and accountability of the Standard. For more information: www.chsalliance.org/membership

Figure 4. Core Humanitarian Stan

Minimum Initial Service Package (MISP) on Reproductive Health in Crises prescribes crucial actions for responding to reproductive health needs at the onset of every humanitarian crisis. The MISP ensures an organization is identified to coordinate the response for sexual and reproductive health; prevents and manages the consequences of sexual violence; reduces HIV transmission; prevents maternal and new-born death and illness; and promotes integration of comprehensive sex and reproductive health care with primary health care. These actions are the starting point for reproductive health coordination and programming, and they provide the foundation for additional services through the response and recovery period. They should be sustained and expanded with comprehensive reproductive health services throughout protracted crises and recovery. The MISP was developed in 2010 through the Inter-Agency Working Group (IAWG) on Reproductive Health in Crises in collaboration with UNFPA and partners. The IAWG encourages humanitarian actors, policymakers and donors to become more aware and responsible for implementing this critical tool. The tool is currently under revision, but the objectives remain similar. It is expected to be launched mid-2018.

IASC Operational Guidelines on the Protection of Persons in Situations of Natural Disasters promote and facilitate a rights-based approach to disaster relief. In particular, they call on humanitarian actors to ensure that human rights principles are integrated into all disaster response and recovery efforts, and that affected people are fully consulted and can participate in all stages of disaster response. The Operational Guidelines, published in 2011, are based on existing human rights law and humanitarian accountability standards.

Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement identifies the rights and guarantees of the forcibly displaced, including their protection and assistance during displacement, as well as during return or resettlement and reintegration. They were established by the United Nations in 1998.

Oslo Guidelines on the Use of Foreign Military and Civil Defence Assets in Disaster Relief (also known as “Oslo Guidelines”) establish the basic framework for improving the effectiveness and efficiency in the use of foreign Military and Civil Defence Assets (MCDA) in international disaster relief operations. The Oslo Guidelines also address the use of MCDA following natural, technological and environmental emergencies in times of peace. MCDA should be requested only where there is no comparable civilian alternative and only when MCDA meets a critical humanitarian need. If MCDA are required, the Oslo Guidelines outline the procedures for requesting and coordinating MCDA. The Guidelines were released in 1994 and revised in 2007.

Asia-Pacific Regional Guidelines for the Use of Foreign Military Assets in Natural Disaster Response Operations reinforce the principles of the Oslo Guidelines and tailor them to the unique civil-military coordination context of Asia and the Pacific. They were established in 2011 and are the outcome of the Asia-Pacific Conferences on Military Assistance to Disaster Relief Operations (APC-MADRO). Sixteen countries from across the Asia-Pacific region participated in their drafting.

Management of Dead Bodies after Disasters: Field Manual is a technical guide that outlines the proper and dignified management of dead bodies after a disaster. It was produced jointly by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), IFRC, Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) and WHO, and first published in 2006. It was revised in 2016. The revised manual covers a range of specific tasks, including infectious disease risk management, body recovery, storage, identification, and disposal of dead bodies. The Field Manual also includes a number of identification and inventory forms among other useful resources.

Environmental Emergencies Guidelines focus on the roles and responsibilities of regional and international institutions and frameworks when responding to the environmental impacts of large scale, sudden-onset disasters and complex emergencies, as well as industrial accidents. They were jointly developed by United Nations Environment and OCHA, and originally issued in 2009 and revised in 2017.

Disaster Waste Management Guidelines provide national authorities and international relief experts with sound and practical advice to help them manage disaster waste. Disaster waste is a well-recognized threat to health, safety and the environment, and it can also be a major impediment to post-disaster rescue operations. These guidelines focus on situations where the local and regional waste management systems are not able to cope with the quantities and composition of wastes generated by a disaster or conflict. The guidelines provide advice and tools to overcome these challenges and successfully manage disaster waste in emergency and early recovery phases. They were developed collaboratively by the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) and the UN Environment / OCHA Joint Unit (JEU) in 2011.

IASC Commitments on Accountability to Affected Populations (CAAP), adopted by the Inter Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Principals and revised in 2017, defines four commitments as critical aspects of a framework for engagement with communities. They are (1) Leadership, (2) Participation and Partnership, (3) Information, Feedback and Action, and (4) Results. These commitments reflect essential developments such as the Core Humanitarian Standard (CHS), and the work done by the IASC on Inter-Agency community- based complaints mechanisms, including Prevention of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (PSEA). They also reflect the importance of meaningful collaboration with local stakeholders. The latter was a priority recommendation from the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit as well as the Grand Bargain.

IASC Gender Handbook in Humanitarian Action establishes standards for the integration of gender issues from the outset of an emergency so that humanitarian services reach their target audience and have maximum impact. The Handbook was published in 2006.

IASC Guidelines for Gender-Based Violence in Humanitarian Settings enable Governments, humanitarian organizations and communities to establish and coordinate a set of minimum multi-sectoral interventions to prevent and respond to gender-based violence during the early phase of an emergency. They were established by the IASC in 2005.

IASC Principles on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by UN and non-UN Entities are six principles outlined in the Secretary-General’s Bulletin Special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and sexual abuse (ST/SGB/2003/13). They are binding on UN staff and related personnel.

Community-Based Complaint Mechanism Best Practice Guide reflects the work of the international humanitarian community over the past decade to establish clear guidelines and global standard operating procedures to strengthen the response to allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by humanitarian actors. The Best Practice Guide compiles lessons learned in the implementation of pilot projects in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ethiopia. It provides instructions on how to set up and run an interagency community-based complaint mechanism to handle reports of abuse by humanitarian aid workers and to provide victim assistance. It was endorsed by the IASC Principals in 2016.