Front cover


Using the Standards

A Quick Look Inside the Standards

1  Core Standards

2  Assessment and Analysis Standards

3  Enterprise and Market Systems Development Standards

4  Asset Distribution Standards

5  Financial Services Standards

6  Employment Standards

Annex: Market-linked Tools and Frameworks for Assessments


Standards Development Task Force

Using the Standards

This resource is not a ‘how to’ for implementing economic programs in humanitarian contexts. Its intent is to provide the reader with guidance on what good programming looks like and what to consider when you are planning your activities.

You can read each section separately or in sequence. Each section contains cross-references to other chapters or sections that may also be relevant, because many of the Standards or actions are linked. Use the figure on page 1 to guide you.

This book will be most useful to field practitioners and humanitarians implementing programs immediately after a crisis. Donors, governments, private-sector actors, proposal writers, and operational staff may also find it a helpful reference point when designing or reviewing project activities.

There will always be a tension between universal standards and the ability to apply them in the moment. Each context is different, and local conditions may make it impossible to meet these standards. This book provides the reader with an understanding of the final results that implementers should be working towards.

A Quick Look Inside the Standards

Who should use the MERS?

The Minimum Economic Recovery Standards (MERS) should be used by anyone planning or implementing economic or livelihood programs in a humanitarian context. It will also be useful for operational staff procuring and/or providing large volumes of goods for a specific area (such as non-food items distributions) to understand how to avoid a negative impact on the market. Donors, governments, private-sector actors, proposal writers, and evaluation staff will find it a useful resource for designing or reviewing project activities.

When should these Standards be applied?

As often as possible.

The Standards are designed to be used pre-crisis, in the earliest days of response, through recovery, to the beginning of longer term development. They are helpful any time you are interacting with a market – whether the response is intended to be market-neutral, market-aware, or market-integrated. They can be used for any market and for programs where economic or livelihood outcomes are not the primary focus of the activities.

Cross-cutting issues and specific target groups

In revising the MERS, care has been taken to address issues that are relevant across the Standards. These cross-cutting issues are: 1) gender, 2) disability, 3) preparedness, 4) resilience, 5) protection, and 6) the environment. They have been incorporated into the relevant sections of each chapter, rather than being dealt with in parallel. This book cannot address all cross-cutting issues comprehensively, but it recognizes their importance and makes links to other partner standards and resources where more information is available.

One point to note for those less familiar with economic programming, is that it is important to consider potential beneficiaries who would not normally be considered ‘vulnerable’ when targeting. Because they are not vulnerable, they are often the sole providers for their families or are able to hire others who are vulnerable. They can be part of the solution, reaching those most in need using existing community structures.

How to read the MERS: the difference between Standards, Indicators, Key Actions, and Guidance Notes

Each chapter presents a set of Standards, with Key actions, Key indicators, and Guidance notes for each standard.

The Standards are qualitative in nature: they are meant to be universal and applicable in any environment. They are the benchmark by which the quality of a set of activities can be judged. Key actions are the tasks that may be done by practitioners in order to meet the minimum standards. Note, however, that simply because a key action is taken does not mean the standard is automatically met. Key indicators are ‘signals’ that show whether a minimum standard has been met. They provide a way of measuring and communicating processes and results of key actions, and can be quantitative or qualitative. Guidance notes provide specific points to consider when applying the minimum standards, key actions, and key indicators in different situations. They provide direction on how to tackle practical difficulties or advice on priority issues.

A short history of the MERS, Sphere and the Humanitarian Standards Partnership

What is Sphere? The Sphere Project and its Handbook are well known for encouraging quality and accountability in humanitarian response. Initiated in 1997 by a group of humanitarian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, the aim was to improve the quality of their actions during disaster response and to be held accountable for them. Sphere’s philosophy is based on two core beliefs: first, that those affected by disaster or conflict have a right to life with dignity and, therefore, a right to assistance; and second, that all possible steps should be taken to alleviate human suffering arising out of disaster or conflict. Striving to support these two core beliefs, the Sphere Project framed a Humanitarian Charter and identified a set of minimum standards in key life-saving sectors which are now reflected in the Handbook.

In 2007 a group of practitioners, members of The SEEP Network, recognized the need to extend Sphere’s guidance to economic programs taking place in humanitarian contexts. Noticing that often opportunities were missed or programs were poorly implemented, this group sought to explore emerging best practice and outline a vision for consistent and technically sound interventions. With the support of USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, the Minimum Economic Recovery Standards (MERS) were created out of a collaborative space where practitioners built a shared vision for improved programming. The MERS have undergone two major collaborative revisions. This is the third edition, representing the work of hundreds of practitioners and thought-leaders over the last 10 years.

Sphere has now recognized four Partner Standards in addition to the MERS: INEE Minimum Standards for Education: Preparedness, Response, and Recovery; Livestock Emergency Guidelines and Standards (LEGS); Minimum Standards for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action (CPMS); and the Minimum Standard for Market Analysis (MiSMA).

The Humanitarian Standards Partnership (HSP), which began in 2015, grew out of the Sphere Companionship model, and promotes complementarity and coherence among technical standards. The HSP draws together the why, how, and what of humanitarian work and encompasses: The Humanitarian Charter, providing the ethical and legal backdrop to humanitarian response; Protection Principles, which set out how to protect people from violence, avoid causing harm, ensure access to impartial assistance, and assist with recovery from abuse; The Core Humanitarian Standard, which describes the essential elements of accountable, effective and high-quality humanitarian action; and the Minimum Standards, which provide universal benchmarks for assistance in shelter and settlement; water, sanitation and hygiene promotion; food security and nutrition; health; education; child protection; livestock; and economic recovery and market analysis.

This is how the Partner Standards complement the MERS:

  • INEE Minimum Standards underline the importance of making sure that education related to livelihoods and employment – small business development, financial literacy, technical and vocational education and training – is provided to young men and women, particularly those from vulnerable groups who do not complete formal schooling. They encourage analysis of labor markets and collaboration with the economic and early recovery sectors to ensure that the business skills learned are useful and programs are relevant for future employment.

  • LEGS deepens the context of the MERS by providing benchmarks related to a critical productive asset – livestock – which so many communities rely heavily upon for their social and economic well-being. With climate change bringing more frequent and diverse types of disaster, LEGS also provides guidance for working with vulnerable livestock-dependent communities in fragile arid and semi-arid environments.

  • CPMS provides a complementary set of agreed norms relating to child-protection work in humanitarian settings, including guidance on issues related to child labor, how the child protection and economic recovery sectors meet, and the release and reintegration of children from armed forces or groups.

  • MiSMA, developed by the Cash Learning Partnership (CaLP), especially resonates with the MERS as both are built on the principle that market analysis should increase the quality of response and limit potential harm. The primary content of both sets of standards is aligned, with the main difference being MiSMA is intended to be used by humanitarian practitioners across sectors in an emergency, whereas the MERS goes into greater detail regarding the implementation of economic recovery activities and includes household economies and broader economic constraints in the market analysis. However, both can be used across all stages, from preparedness to early recovery.

The MERS third edition revision was a deeply collaborative year-long process involving over 90 organizations. Two write-shop events, and consultations in Geneva, Dakar, Panama City, New Delhi, Beirut, and London, involved more than 175 people in the drafting and reviewing process. A steering committee provided oversight and guidance, ensuring that the perspectives of multiple stakeholders were included and that the final document would be comprehensive, yet accessible.

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