Sphere: Resilience and capacity building in West Africa


Photo: Illiassou Adamou

The most important thing for me is learning to coordinate among humanitarians. I found that while we do apply Sphere principles in our work, at times we make mistakes that expose or stigmatize the people we assist...

Odette Badiel,  Danish Refugee Council, Burkina Faso and Sphere ToT graduate

In late 2019, H2H Network members began scoping and needs assessments in Burkina Faso, supported by the network’s fund. Based on members’ findings and the outcome of the network’s consultations with local government, UN agencies, local and international NGOs, there was an urgent need to strengthen the humanitarian coordination in the country. Humanitarian-to-humanitarian organizations’ technical expertise was required to support the newly established cluster activation.

The humanitarian context of Burkina Faso was characterized by insecurity of people living in the Eastern, Northern and Sahel regions, resulting in forced displacement and mass population movement with serious protection concerns. (Projet de renforcement des capacités des acteurs impliqués dans la réponse à la crise humanitaire au Burkina Faso - Rapport de suivi post formation). By late 2019, 828,000 people had been displaced and 1,6 million people were food insecure. The humanitarian emergency was further impacted by Covid-19, as both a health concern and an issue affecting international access to affected areas.

In response to the crisis, several local and international NGOs on the ground, together with local authorities, associations and state services in charge of humanitarian issues, decided to provide immediate assistance to internally displaced persons. For some of them, this was the first time being involved in such crisis response and they were not necessarily familiar with international humanitarian standards. (Projet de renforcement des capacités des acteurs impliqués dans la réponse à la crise humanitaire au Burkina Faso - Rapport de suivi post formation)

Sphere, with technical support fromCHS Alliance and Groupe URD and funding from the H2H Network, rapidly responded to the growing need for in-country trainings. Between January and October 2020, Sphere organized 9 in-person events in total in Burkina Faso.

In addition to the need for capacity building in the country, Sphere immediately recognized training of local trainers as essential to help the local humanitarian system become more resilient to unexpected emergencies and deal with hurdles imposed by Covid-19.

The project was planned and implemented by Sphere’s focal point in Niger, Adamou Illiassou, a highly experienced humanitarian, Sphere trainer and practitioner. Three major groups of activities were carried out in 2 phases; Training of Trainers (ToT), training of local humanitarian actors in 8 relocated centres (7 in Burkina Faso and 1 in Niger); and an information day on humanitarian standards for humanitarian decision-makers in Burkina Faso. The strong partnership between the Sphere, CHS and Groupe URD enabled them to cover all areas where expert humanitarian intervention was required.

The project started with a series of three 3-day workshops on Sphere standards, organized in Burkina Faso (Ouagadougou and Kaya) and Niger (Niamey). From the 75 workshop participants, a group of 9 humanitarian professionals were selected to attend the ToT programme; to take the next step towards becoming an accredited Sphere trainer. They come from local and international humanitarian agencies operating in Burkina Faso and have diverse backgrounds. Following the 4-day ToT workshop, 4 ToT graduates were selected to facilitate their very first Sphere workshops in September. These four 3-day workshops were organized with the support of Sphere focal point in Niger, UN OCHA and the Ministry of Humanitarian Action to CONASUR.

These workshops were organized in 4 different locations (Fada, Dori, Bobo-Dioulasso and Ouahigouya), identified based on the needs of the humanitarian hubs. There was a great interest of attendance among humanitarian responders: 342 applications were registered for 100 places. As the trainings were carried out in a face-to-face setting, strict measures were applied such as mandatory face masks, social barriers in the training room and daily monitoring of participants’ temperatures.

The workshops have demonstrated that the ToT programme allowed the humanitarian system to move the localization agenda forward in Burkina Faso by leveraging local capacities that can immediately activate and support local responders in the event of a sudden or protracted crisis.

One of the new Sphere trainers said:

This training allowed my organization and my country to acquire an internal Sphere trainer. I will be able to share my learning not only with my colleagues and FAO partners, but also with the wider humanitarian community...

Boureima Lionel Ouedraogo, UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Burkina Faso and Sphere ToT graduate

In addition to reinforcing their training pool, Sphere’s series of workshop and ToT programme promoted international humanitarian standards, putting people affected by disaster or conflict at the centre of emergency response and helping improve the quality and accountability of humanitarian aid.

Sphere is in discussion with international organizations in the region to expand the initiative further throughout 2021. Watch this space!