COVID-19 and the Core Humanitarian Standard: How to meet our CHS commitments in the coronavirus pandemic

18 January 2021

As the world responds to the devastating global outbreak of COVID-19, it is vital that we keep the views, rights and dignity of people at the forefront of our work. People need to be seen as human beings and not just cases. Human dignity is the essence of the CHS.

Accountability, Ethics and COVID-19

Recap of the webinar

This is an unprecedented global public health emergency and social and economic crisis. With severe restrictions in travel and movement, and stretched health care systems, civil society and humanitarian organisations will play a critical role. All people should have equal access to health services and treatment, without discrimination, and be treated with respect.

The Core Humanitarian Standard on Quality and Accountability (CHS) sets out our sector’s core commitments to the people we assist. It guides us in taking a principled and people-centred approach to the way we manage the response and adaptation to COVID-19. This is a guide to how the CHS commitments can inform your response to the pandemic, along with some useful resources.

Links to commitments

Commitment 1 Commitment 2 Commitment 3
Commitment 4 Commitment 5 Commitment 6
Commitment 7 Commitment 8 Commitment 9

Please share your resources with us to keep this updated!

Commitment 1

Humanitarian response is appropriate and relevant

Marginalised people become even more vulnerable in emergencies. COVID-19 is no exception. Considering the diverse needs of people and adapting the response to make sure it is inclusive to different groups is more important than ever.

  • Consider how programmes need to adapt to meet the needs of the most vulnerable.
  • Conduct rapid assessments to monitor changes in the needs of the population, paying particular attention to potential discrimination in regard to people’s real or perceived COVID status.
Useful resource
The RCCE (IFRC, UNICEF and WHO) Action Plan Guidance COVID Preparedness and Response
IASC Briefing note on addressing mental health and psychosocial aspects of COVID-19 (in Multiple languages)
Save the Children’s 10 things you should know about COVID-19 and Persons with Disabilities
Age and Disability Capacity Program’s Inclusion of older people and people with disabilities
IASC Interim Guidance GENDER ALERT FOR COVID-19 OUTBREAK (also available in French and Spanish)
IASC COVID-19 Resources Relating to Accountability and Inclusion
CARE’s Policy brief on Gender Implications of Covid-19 Outbreaks In Development and Humanitarian Settings
CARE and IRC’s Global Rapid Gender Analysis for COVID-19
GBVAOR and GiHA The COVID-19 Outbreak and Gender: Key advocacy points from Asia and Pacific
Helpage’s Guidance and advice for older people on COVID-19
CartONG ‘s COVID-19 Crisis: How to Adapt Data Collection for Monitoring and Accountability – In French, English version coming soon
UNICEF’s Risk Communication & Community Engagement:PracticalTips onEngaging Adolescents and Youth in the COVID-19 Response
WHO’s Disability considerations during the COVID-19 outbreak, available in French
Edge Effect’s Impacts of COVID-19 on LGBTIQ+ people

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Commitment 2

Humanitarian response is effective and timely 

COVID-19 is an unprecedented situation, meaning programmes will need to quickly adapt. As the threat of this new coronavirus evolves, people’s knowledge and beliefs will change, so assessments need to be ongoing to ensure that interventions remain relevant to people at risk. Flexibility and adaptability are essential.

  • Regularly adapt activities and revise plans as needs rapidly change.
  • Refer to the technical standards for essential guidance as these times.
Useful resource
WHO Country & Technical Guidance – Coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
Sphere’s guidance on the Sphere Standards and the Coronavirus response in multiple languages
WHO and UNICEF Water, sanitation, hygiene and waste management for COVID-19
ALNAP’s Responding to COVID-19: Guidance for humanitarian agencies

I-APS’s Guidelines for Adapting Third-Party Monitoring In the Context Of the Covid-19 Outbreak
Mercy Corps’ COVID-19 Remote MERL Guidance
IOM COVID Camp Management Operational Guidance Frequently Asked Questions
Evidence Aid’s COVIOD-19 Information Portal
Slum and Rural Health Initiative’ COVID-19 awareness posters in multiple languages

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Commitment 3

Humanitarian response strengthens local capacities and avoids negative effects

Local and National players will have a critical role to play in the response to this pandemic. More so as drastically reduced international travel and supply lines make large scale international mobilization impossible, while many deal with their own operational disruption and domestic response.

  • Reinforce remote management mechanisms and learn from previous experiences, paying attention to managing risk.
Useful resource
Position Paper – Localised Response to Covid-19 Global Pandemic by the Alliance for Empowering Partnership (A4EP)

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To avoid negative effects, we need to be aware that the impact of COVID-19 will bring changes in behaviour that may lead to increased risks of sexual exploitation and abuse, challenges to public safety, fraud and other criminal activity. Lack of awareness and information about the novel coronavirus can weaken social cohesion and spur violence, discrimination, marginalization and xenophobia. Therefore, we need to be paying extra attention to the potential negative behavior, as well as our responses don’t create further harm, with particular attention to stigma, exclusion and xenophobia.

  • Circulate PSEA Policy and/or Code of Conduct or Ethics and other safeguarding measures and remind staff of the need to comply.
  • Provide initial or refresher training on PSEA.
  • Pay attention that our programmes don’t create further harm, through increasing stigma and discrimination.
  • Be extra cautious with people’s data privacy and ensuring careful data protection.
Useful resource
CHS Alliance PSEA quick Implementation Handbook
Interaction six-minute training video – No Excuse For Abuse
Online Safeguarding Essentials on the Kaya Platform
IASC Interim Technical Note: Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (PSEA) During COVID-19 Response
WHO’s COVID-19 and violence against women What the health sector/system can do
ICRC’s Prevention and Response to Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Covid-19 Quarantine Centres
IASC Interim Guidance on Localisation and the COVID-19 Response
ICRC COVID-19: Inclusive Programming – Ensuring Assistance and Protection Addresses the Needs of Marginalized and At-Risk People highlights PSEA and SH aspects

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Commitment 4

Humanitarian response is based on communication, participation and feedback

To succeed in the fight against COVID-19, communication is more critical than ever. However, many traditional methods of engaging with communities (such as group discussion, face-to-face meetings) are compromised with social distancing measures. Attention must be paid to dispel myths associated with fake or incorrect news.

  • Update communication and feedback channels by increasing the use of technology and remote communication channels, such as hotlines, sms, Internet. Consider radio for information sharing.
  • Promotion and distribution of clear, consistent and accurate messages pertaining to COVID-19 are essential. Communication materials need to be in the relevant language(s) understood by the community. Effective community engagement can assist with identifying and addressing rumours or misinformation.
  • Ensure communication is contextualized. Community perceptions and beliefs can support or hinder the response, so it is extremely important to understand and address these.
  • Provide information on how regular programme delivery is impacted by COVID-19 safety measures, how the organisation can be contacted (hotline, website) and what services are available.
  • Update your contact with community-based organisations, key informants, community representatives and leaders at a time when direct access is challenged. Consider equipping representatives of vulnerable populations with phones if these are scarce. Understand traditional support structures as a way to share and obtain information.
Useful resource
GOARN, IFRC, UNICEF, WHO: the revised COVID-19 Global Risk Communication and Community Engagement (RCCE) Strategy
CDAC’s How To Guide on communication and community engagement (CCE). Also available in French, Spanish and Portuguese
Asia-Pacific Risk Communication and Community Engagement (RCCE) Working Group produced the extremely helpful COVID-19: How to include marginalized and vulnerable people in risk communication and community engagement
The British Red Cross’Community Engagement Hub continues to collate the latest communication and community engagement-related resources
IFRC New Coronavirus Risk Communication and Community Engagement Strategy – Africa
H2H Network has funded BBC Media Action, Internews, Evidence Aid and Translators Without Borders to lead a project to fight misinformation around the virus. To receive the weekly Connect: COVID-19 bulletins, email
Internews COVID-19 Rumour Bulletin
TWB glossary for COVID-19 in multiple languages
WB’s DO YOU SPEAK COVID-19?The importance of language for effective communication across the response
WHO has created a series of myth busters to counter the spread of misinformation and rumours
CDAC’s Practice Guide to Working with Rumours – also available in Arabic and French
UNICEF: Key Messages and Actions for COVID-19 Prevention and Control in Schools
UNICEF’s recommendations on Engaging with Children and Adults with Disabilities during COVID-19
IASC has produced a guide on how to include marginalized and vulnerable people in risk communication and community engagement in COVID-19
WHH Corona Comic (available in more than 20 languages and country versions) and the Corona-Comic Video
WFD-WASLI Guidelines on Providing Access to Public Health Information in National Sign Languages during the Coronavirus Pandemic
Oxfam’s community engagement guides: community-facing staff, engagement during Covid-19 checklist, practical tips
IDA-IDDC Accessibility Campaign – COVID19
GOARN, IFRC, UNICEF, WHO’s “Tips for Engaging Communities during COVID-19 in Low-Resource Settings, Remotely and In-Person”
Malteser International’s experience of People First Impact Method (P-FIM) in Ebola and Covid-19 Response in DR Congo

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Commitment 5

Complaints are welcomed and addressed

COVID-19 does not mean that we should ignore our complaint channels but work harder at ensuring they are accessible and well managed.  As above, challenges in communication will mean we have to readily adapt to how people can access these channels. We must

  • Regularly review the available capacity to manage complaint channels, due to increased workload and caring responsibilities of staff.
  • Ensure there are updated references for referrals and service providers due to the emerging situation with this new coronavirus.
  • Clearly communicate what behaviour people should expect from aid workers and that any clear breaches of behaviour can and should be reported through the available complaint mechanisms.
Useful resource
CHS Commitments in plain language to display in prominent places so people affected know and understand what to expect. Now in 13 languages!
CWSA webinar on “Effective Complaints Response Mechanisms are crucial to ensure accountability to affected people in the COVID-19 crisis”
SS/EUR & CHS Alliance: Complaint Mechanisms & Covid-19: The Importance Of Preparedness And Community Engagement

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Commitment 6

Humanitarian response is coordinated and complementary

The response to the COVID-19 requires strong collaboration to be effective and efficient. We must recognise the contributions that members of communities, host governments, national and local health services, donors, private sector, scientifics, and humanitarian organisations (local, national, international) can make, with their different mandates and expertise.

  • Maintain and increase participation in relevant coordination bodies that involve national and local key stakeholders.
  • Share necessary information, and collaborate with others in order to minimise demands on communities and maximise the coverage and service provision.
  • Suggest and lead joint assessments, trainings and evaluations across organisations and other stakeholders to ensure a more coherent approach.
Useful resource
Global Collective Service co-lead by WHO, UNICEF and IFRC

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Commitment 7

Humanitarian actors continuously learn and improve

We can draw on lessons learnt, such as from the Ebola outbreak in recent years, which are extremely useful to design your response.

  • Consider lessons learnt and prior experiences from previous pandemics and Ebola outbreaks.
  • Stimulate innovation in your response and share learning with communities and people affected by crisis, and with others.
Useful resource
Kaya’s The COVID-19 Learning Pathway (Open Access)
Kaya’s Learning Design Playlist to support transition from F2F to online
Kaya’s Top Tips for Online Learning
Learningpool’s Coronavirus Course Essentials
Cornerstone’s Learning platform on COVID-19
Bioforce’s COVID-19 self-training tool for local and international responders working on prevention and control – Available in French
Groupe URD’s Epidemics, Pandemics and Humanitarian Challenges: Lessons from a Number of Health Crises
BetterEvaluation’s Adapting evaluation in the time of COVID-19 – Part 1: MANAGE
UNFPA’s Adapting evaluations to the COVID-19 pandemic
IFRC Training of Trainers Webinar COVID-19: Risk Communication & Community Engagement and Accountability

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Commitment 8

Staff are supported to do their job effectively, and are treated fairly and equitably

Everyone is exposed to the risks of this pandemic and will experience additional stress in response to COVID-19. As an increasing number of people will be required to work at home, organisations must adapt and conduct all their people processes remotely. Paying greater attention to work-life balance, adopting supportive approach towards all employees and trusting your staff members to manage their workloads will be critical to maintain their morale and engagement. HR has to play a key leadership role.

  • Frontline staff should be provided with the necessary protective equipment and material required to do their job safely.
  • Ensure your staff is aware of risks and how to protect themselves and others, keep them well informed about the specific guidelines for members of staff who have symptoms and/or been in contact with an infected person.
  • Disseminate your health and safety policies and contingency plans among your employees and managers and remind them of sick pay and leave policies and benefits and where these can be accessed remotely.
  • Ensure that a suitable working environment and required equipment is available for your staff to enable home working and offer technical support and/or training when and if needed.
  • Leverage technologies to maintain communication networks and provide social support while working remotely, ensuring space for continuous interpersonal interaction and sense of community.
  • Pay attention to the additional stress for staff caused by this change in environment, the work-life conflict and additional caring responsibilities. Provide clear advice about working at home safely and healthily and offer psychosocial support.
  • Help your staff in establishing a working approach that works for them (e.g. tips on arranging a physical working space, flexible hours to allow for caring responsibilities, introducing voluntary and temporary special leave policy) and clarify your expectations (e.g. focus on delivery rather than working hours).
Useful resource free online learning help responders work safely and promote infection prevention, preparedness and well-being
Duty of Care International has published a new duty of care checklist for people management and recruitment in aid organisations
The Headington Institute has a team of psychologists helping humanitarian and development organisations ensure the well-being of individuals. They’ve created a suite of materials related to COVID-19
Humentum blog with tips for remote working
  The KonTerra Group provides mental health and organizational resilience services to organisations and their people:

Mental health charity Mind’s guidance on coronavirus and well-being
CIPD’s answers to frequently asked questions to offer guidance in responding to the coronavirus disease, COVID-19
10 top tips for healthy remote working from CIPD
Acas – Coronavirus advice for employers and employees
Save the children’s video on MHPSS and Wellbeing and resilience and building up
ARQ National Psychotrauma Centrum’s video resources on “Supporting yourself & colleagues during COVID-19
IFRC’s Mental Health and Psychosocial Support for Staff, Volunteers and Communities in an Outbreak of Novel Coronavirus
Rehab 4 Addiction’s Coronavirus: Guidance for Better Mental Health
IASC Guidance on Basic Psychosocial Skills- A Guide for COVID-19 Responders

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Commitment 9

Resources are managed and used responsibly for their intended purpose

While extra resources will be needed for this response, donors are encouraged to provide unearmarked, flexible funding as far as possible, so organizations can adapt to the rapidly changing needs.

Useful resource
Global Humanitarian Response Plan
LAPA’s International Covid-19 Funding Sources
IASC Interim Key Messages: Flexible Funding for Humanitarian Response and COVID-19
Updates on COVID-19 and the environment

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For more information or to share your resources, contact the CHS Alliance Senior Advisor on CHS and Outreach, Bonaventure Sokpoh