The Sphere standards have been devised to ensure that people affected by disasters will receive an adequate level of assistance; these standards are used across the world and apply both to natural and complex emergencies. The latter tend to be lasting events that often create a displacement of the population and it is argued that in such situations, where prolonged assistance is required, the Sphere standards may be counterproductive. By using examples of water supply interventions, it is highlighted that in some circumstances the Sphere standards for water quality may only be achieved with systems too complex for the displaced population to operate and maintain on their own. The case of two war-affected areas of Eastern Chad are presented to illustrate the importance of the temporal aspects of the Sphere standards in complex emergencies, and raises important questions regarding the long-term sustainability of adopting such standards for displaced populations.
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