Humanitarian Operational Environment


Cluster Approach


Table of Contents


I. Humanitarian Operational Environment

1.     Introduction

2.     Humanitarian Principles

3.     Humanitarian Organisations/Bodies

4.     Areas of Common Interest

5.     Humanitarian Funding


II. Cluster Approach

1.     Origin – Humanitarian Reform

2.     Aim of Cluster Approach

3.     Global Cluster Leads

4.     Cluster Activations

5.     Cluster Activities at Country Level


III . Useful Documents and Links

IV. References


I. Humanitarian Operational Environment

1. Introduction


Humanitarian operational environment is the one in which international and national aid organisations and commercial sector entities function and interact during emergencies. It is significantly different from any other operating environment. Activities involved in this environment are all targeted towards the delivery of humanitarian assistance in whatever form. There is no single organisation that is able to deliver this assistance adequately on its own, hence the need to coordinate and collaborate with other entities to achieve this objective. Humanitarian actors operating in this environment include:


  • National and local governments
  • UN bodies
  • Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement
  • Non-governmental Organisations – national and international
  • Commercial companies
  • Military
  • Donor Agencies


To facilitate the engagement between these various entities, inclusive and well-defined structures, known as ‘cluster’, were created. Accountable lead organisations for each cluster have been identified globally in various sectors.


The cluster approach ( LINK TO CLUSTER APPROACH CHAPTER) f acilitates efficient and economical operations where humanitarian actors are able to maximise their limited resources and demonstrate accountability. Therefore, clusters serve as a coordination mechanism for humanitarian organisations working in the same sector. The cluster approach will be further explained later in this chapter.



2. Humanitarian Principles


The principles of humanitarian practice aim to ensure the rights of those affected by conflict or natural disaster to protection and assistance, while minimising the potential negative impact or manipulation of such assistance and strengthening preparedness for future disasters. Humanitarian practice includes the protection of civilians and those no longer taking part in hostilities; meeting their basic needs for food, water, sanitation, shelter and health care; and assisting their return to normal lives and livelihoods. Humanitarian practice is guided by humanitarian law and a range of international standards and codes of conduct including:


  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948;
  • Four Geneva Conventions of 12949 & additional protocols of 1977;
  • Principles of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Response Programmes;
  • The Sphere Project (2004) Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response.


International humanitarian workers therefore abide by the following core humanitarian principles:


  • Humanity – every individual’s right to life with dignity and the duty on others to take steps to save lives and alleviate suffering;
  • Impartiality – to act on the basis of need without discrimination;
  • Neutrality – to act without preference for one group or another;
  • Independence – to ensure the autonomy of humanitarian action from any other political, economic or military interests.



3. Organisations/Bodies in Emergency Environment


It is important that humanitarian logistics staff fully understand the environment in which they are operating and the roles of the various humanitarian organisations which may be involved.



A. Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC)


The Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) is a unique forum for coordination, policy development and decision-making involving the key UN and non-UN humanitarian partners. The IASC plays a role as the primary mechanism for inter-agency coordination of humanitarian assistance. Under the leadership of the Emergency Relief Coordinator , the IASC develops humanitarian policies, agrees on a clear division of responsibility for the various aspects of humanitarian assistance, identifies and addresses gaps in response, and advocates for effective application of humanitarian principles.


The IASC consists of the Heads (or designated representatives) of the UN operational agencies (i.e. FAO, OCHA, UNDP, UNFPA, UNHABITAT, UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP, and WHO) and key humanitarian partners including ICRC, ICVA, IFRC, InterAction, IOM , OHCHR, RSG on Human Rights of IDPs, SCHR , and World Bank. The number of participating agencies has expanded since its inception in 1992. On the global level, the IASC meets formally twice a year and deliberates on issues brought to its attention by the ERC and by the IASC Working Group.



Source: http://www.humanitarianinfo.org/iasc/pageloader.aspx?page=content-about-default ) and http://www.humanitarianinfo.org/iasc/pageloader.aspx?page=content-working-default&mainbodyid=1&publish=0



Useful Link - IASC Website: http://www.humanitarianinfo.org / iasc/pageloader.aspx

Useful document - Terms of Reference of the IASC




B. United Nations Operational Agencies


Within the United Nations system, a number of Programmes, Funds, and Specialised Agencies are responsible in carrying out relief and recovery activities. These Programmes, Funds and Specialised Agencies are operational agencies with specific mandates and extensive humanitarian experience. Their activities include identifying detailed humanitarian needs through various assessments as well as designing and implementing relief programmes for disaster affected populations.


The structure of these Programmes, Funds, and Specialised Agencies can be found in below link: UN Organizational Chart




For more details on these Programmes, Funds and Specialised Agencies, please click below icons.





C. United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is the arm of the UN Secretariat that is responsible for bringing together humanitarian actors to ensure coherent response to emergencies. OCHA also ensures there is a framework within which each actor can contribute to the overall response effort.


OCHA's mission is to mobilise and coordinate effective and principled humanitarian action in partnership with national and international actors in order to alleviate human suffering in disasters and emergencies;   advocate for the rights of people in need; promote preparedness and prevention; and   facilitate sustainable solutions.


Source: http://ocha online.un.org/


Other OCHA sites



OCHA’s links:

Executive Manag e m e nt

Donor and External Relations S ection Executive and Adm i nistrative Offices
Inter-Agency Standing Committee/E x ecutive Committee on Humanitarian Affairs Secretariat  
Emergency Respons e Coordination

Emergency Servi c es Branch Internal Displac e ment Division
Humanitarian Reform S upport Unit
Policy D e velopment
Advocacy and Information Management
Advocacy and External Relations
Information Analysis Section
Information Technology Section  




D. UN Senior Representative and Coordinators


Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG)

A Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) is appointed by the UN Secretary-General to act on his behalf in emergencies which are “complex or of exceptional magnitude”. In practice, the appointment of an SRSG is normally reserved for those complex emergencies which require UN involvement in major political negotiations and/or when UN peacekeeping forces are deployed.


When a SRSG is appointed, he/she is recognized as having overall authority with regard to UN operations in the designated country. If heading a peacekeeping operation, the SRSG reports to the Secretary-General through the USG for Peacekeeping Operations, or if heading a political mission, is through the USG for Political Affairs.


A SRSG is also involved when an Integrated Mission is proposed for the planning, design and implementation of complex UN operations in post-conflict situations, and for linking the different dimensions of peace support operations. An Integrated Mission is one in which there is a shared vision among all UN actors as to the strategic objective of the UN presence at country level. Once an Integrated Mission has been established following a Security Council resolution, the SRSG will take the lead in the planning process in close cooperation with the IMTF (Integrated Mission Task Force). Source: United Nations Integrated Mission Planning Process (IMPP) Guidelines endorsed by the Secretary General’s Policy Committee, 13 June 2006 .



Emergency Relief Coordinator (ERC)

The Emergency Relief Coordinator is the United Nations’ Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and head of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The ERC is responsible for oversight of all emergencies requiring United Nations humanitarian assistance and leads the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) acting as the central focal point for Governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental relief activities.


The current Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator is Sir. John Holmes. The Global Cluster lead agencies are accountable to the ERC in ensuring better coordination and effective humanitarian response through cluster activities.


Source – OCHA Website: http://ochaonline.un.org/OCHAHome/AboutUs/TheUSGERC/tabid/5844/language/en-US/Default.aspx



Humanitarian Coordinator (HC)

Upon the occurrence of a complex emergency, the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator (ERC), on behalf of the Secretary-General and after consultation with the IASC, will designate a Humanitarian Coordinator (HC). The HC serves as the representative of the ERC (and therefore of OCHA) in the country/region concerned. The HC is responsible for coordinating the humanitarian activities of the Humanitarian Country Team . He/she will provide liaison between the Humanitarian Country Team and the ERC. 


The IASC may assign the functions of Humanitarian Coordinator (HC) to the Resident Coordinator for the country. This is a normal practice but other options are also available, i.e. appointing a separate Humanitarian Coordinator, or appointing a Regional Humanitarian Coordinator when an emergency involves more than one country. In such instances Resident/Humanitarian Coordinators of countries in the region should work as a team under the guidance of the Regional Humanitarian Coordinator.


The Cluster leads at the country level are accountable to the Humanitarian Coordinator for their cluster lead responsibilities.  


Useful Document: HC TOR

Document source: http://www.humanitarianreform.org/humanitarianreform/Default.aspx?tabid=143



Resident Coordinator (RC)

UN Resident coordinator (RC) is a designated representative of the UN Secretary-General. RC leads the UN Country Team and reports to the UN Secretary-General through the Chair of the UN Development Group.


In each country office, the UNDP Resident Representative normally also serves as the Resident Coordinator of development activities for the United Nations system as a whole. Through such coordination, UNDP seeks to ensure the most effective use of UN and international aid resources.


In addition, if international humanitarian assistance is required and a separate Humanitarian Coordinator position is not established, the RC is accountable to the Emergency Relief Coordinator (ERC), OCHA for the strategic and operational coordination of the response efforts of UN Country Team members and relevant humanitarian actors (national and international humanitarian organisations, bilateral actors), in support of national efforts. The ERC may choose to designate the RC as Humanitarian Coordinator (HC), in consultation with the IASC, if the situation so requires. In this case, the RC/HC is accountable to the ERC with whom an annual compact is drawn up detailing the planned key results for the HC function. (Source: http://rconline.undg.org/?page_id=20 )


The Cluster leads at the country level are accountable to the Resident Coordinator in the absence of a Humanitarian Coordinator.


Useful Document: RC TOR

Document source: http://www.humanitarianreform.org/humanitarianreform/Default.aspx?tabid=143



UN Country Team (UNCT)

The UNCT encompasses all the entities of the UN system that carry out operational activities for development, emergency, recovery and transition in programme countries and it ensures interagency coordination and decision making at the country level. The UNCT aims for individual agencies to plan and work together, as part of the Resident Coordinator system, to ensure the delivery of tangible results in support of the development agenda of the government.


The UNCT membership, roles and responsibilities must also be laid out clearly within each UNCT. These will include accountability to each other and the RC, taking responsibility for elements of the RC/UNCT work plan, particularly in oversight of subsidiary groups, mobilization of resources for the UNDAF and UNCT plans, and taking part in mutual assessments. This will not prejudice their relationship with their own agency.


The United Nations Country Team, or UNCT for short, exists in 136 countries, covering all of the 180 countries where there are United Nations programmes.


Source: http://www.undg.org/index.cfm?P=1257

Useful Document: IASC guidance note on UNCT - Available in the folder.



E. National Government Authorities


In General Assembly Resolution 46/182, ‘ each State has the responsibility first and foremost to take care of the victims of natural disasters and other emergencies occurring on its territory ’ and as such ‘ the affected State has the primary role in the initiation, organization, coordination and implementation of humanitarian assistance within its

territory ’. ( Source: IASC Operational Guidance on the Concept of ‘Provider of Last Resort’)


UN encourages governments to ‘designate a single national agency or organisation to conduct and coordinate emergency relief measures.’ The establishment of such government authority to coordinate domestic relief activities recognises the central role and responsibility of the stricken government in disaster relief operations. Where possible, coordinating mechanisms such as clusters should involve the relevant government authorities.


The question is more complicated in man-made conflict situations when circumstances require the coordination of relief activities through a neutral intermediary. Reporting structures will be then agreed between the government and the Humanitarian Coordinator.



F. The Red Cross Movement


The Red Cross is a very important humanitarian component that will be prevalent in all aspects of relief work. It is therefore likely to be an integral part of the emergency environment and may play an important role in coordinating humanitarian assistance in complex emergencies. The Red Cross is composed of three elements:


  • The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is the founder body of the Red Cross movement. The ICRC is promoter of the Geneva Conventions of their additional Protocols concerning the treatment of wounded and sick military personnel, prisoners of war and civilian populations in internal and international conflicts. Consequently, the ICRC will play an active role in most complex emergencies.
  • The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is a federation of national societies worldwide. It aims to inspire, encourage, facilitate and promote all forms of humanitarian activities by its member societies with a view to preventing and alleviating human suffering. When disasters occur, the IFRC assists national societies in assessing needs, mobilising resources and organising relief activities. IFRC delegates are often assigned to give direct assistance to national societies. Personnel from other national societies may also be requested and assigned under the auspices of the IFRC.
  • The National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies act as auxiliaries to the public (governmental) authorities and services. They normally concentrate on activities concerned with public health – including first aid and primary health care – and relief. Many national societies also maintain stocks of relief supplies. They receive funds from their own membership, from local fund-raising activities and also in many cases from the government. Especially in emergencies, they may also receive funds, supplies and/or the assistance of personnel from sister Societies in other countries. This support is normally channelled through the IFRC, but may occasionally be given on a bilateral basis. The IFRC and national societies may become important actors during relief operations, particularly with regard to the storage and forwarding of non-assigned relief commodities arriving in the crisis region.



G. Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs)


Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs) can be divided into two main categories – international NGOs working in the international field, and local NGOs working in their own country. The NGO community has become increasingly important in the humanitarian work and has significantly grown in numbers over the past years to cover the full spectrum of humanitarian relief activities.


One or more NGOs are often present in the area of an emergency, before, during and after the onset of the crisis and will, therefore, have hands-on experience and information that might be crucial in carrying out relief operations. NGOs tend to specialise in one or two fields, or to direct their efforts towards one needy population group. They usually offer skilled staff, rapid deployment capacity (if they are not already in the area), operational flexibility and resources that might not otherwise be available in an emergency.


Local NGOs can be extremely helpful in various ways, especially because they are known locally and because they are familiar with the area, the culture, the community, etc. in many cases, they work together with other international NGOs and the UN agencies.


Link – List of NGOs in consultative status with the United Nations: http://esango.un.org/civilsociety/getByAllHavingStatus.do;jsessionid=661BB16D24EB09EAB28AA065A1088A78?method=getByAllHavingStatus&searchType=csSearch


Useful document – PDF file – list of NGOs in consultative status with the UN/ECOSOC



H. Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO)

The Department of Peacekeeping Operations is a UN body tasked by the Security Council to undertake peacekeeping operations in specific areas of recent or potential conflict. A Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG) is usually appointed to head each peacekeeping operation. Reporting to DPKO Headquarters in New York , the SRSG exercises authority over all UN entities in the emergency area. The Office of SRSG has two main components: a civilian structure headed by the Chief Administration Officer ( CAO ) and a military structure headed by the Senior Military Officer (SMO).


Typically, a peacekeeping operation encompasses a broad range of tasks and responsibilities. For example, DPKO staff deployed into an emergency area may include military components in the security or observation role, civilian police elments and mine action teams as well as specialists in Political Affairs and Human Rights.


Recent peacekeeping mandates have also included tasks such as “coordination with humanitarian agencies” or “support to humanitarian action.” The personnel, material and financial assets of these operations are managed by a civilian led administration, headed by CAO .



Useful Document: DPKO Organizational Chart – available in the folder




I. Donor Agencies

Donor agencies may be present in the crisis area and may even be actively involved in disaster relief activities before a major emergency occurs. Some of these donor organisations, especially governmental organisations, have developed a concept for rapid intervention in case of disaster. Examples of such disaster relief sections within donor organisations include the Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) of the United States Office for Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) and the Conflict, Humanitarian and Security Department Operations Team (CHASE OT) of the UK Department for International Development (DFID).



4. Humanitarian Funding


Humanitarian organisations are funded by contributions from individuals, corporations, governments and other organisations. Each humanitarian agency usually has its own resource mobilisation mechanism in place having either bilateral or multilateral contributions provided by donors. In recent days, not only traditional donors such as government and inter-governmental organizations but also private donors are taking on an important part in supporting relief operations.


Link: http://ocha.unog.ch/fts/pageloader. a spx ? page=home

Useful Document: Humanitarian contributions in 2010 by donors



A. Appeals

At the onset of an emergency, humanitarian community comes together to prepare for an appeal which summarizes relief needs and response plan for different sectors. These appeals are tools to structure humanitarian response and to mobilize funds.


1) Flash Appeal

It is a tool used for structuring a coordinated humanitarian response for the first three to six months of an emergency. The UN Humanitarian Coordinator triggers it in consultation with all stakeholders. Ideally, a Flash Appeal should be issued within one week of an emergency. It provides a concise overview of urgent life saving needs, and may include recovery projects that can be implemented within the timeframe of the Appeal.



2) Consolidated Appeals Process ( CAP )

It serves to raise funds for humanitarian action as well as assist humanitarian aid partners to plan, implement and monitor their activities together. Thus the CAP is much more than an appeal for money.


Source: http://ochao n line.un.org/humanitarianappeal/webpage.asp?Nav=_about_en&Site=_about&Lang= e n



3) Common Humanitarian Action Plan (CHAP)

It is a strategic plan for humanitarian response in a given country or region. It provides:

       A common analysis of the context in which humanitarian takes place;

       An assessment of needs;

       Best, worst, and most likely scenarios;

       Identification of roles and responsibilities, i.e. who does what and where;

       A clear statement of longer-term objectives and goals; and

       A framework for monitoring the strategy and revising it if necessary.


The CHAP is the foundation for developing a Consolidated Appeal, and is as such part of the Coordinated Appeals Process ( CAP ).



B. Pooled Funds


1) Emergency Response Fund (ERF)*

*also sometimes called Humanitarian Response Funds

The Emergency Response Fund aims to provide rapid and flexible funding to address gaps in humanitarian needs. It is usually established to meet unforeseen needs that are not included in the CAP or similar coordination mechanisms but in line with CHAP objectives and identified priorities. It increases opportunities for local actors including NGOs to respond to needs in areas where INGOs face challenges to access due to security or political constraints. The ERFs have been used since 1997. Compared to Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) and Common Humanitarian Fund (CHF), ERFs are relatively small in size. OCHA typically undertakes both financial and programmatic management of ERFs. ERFs are operational in Afghanistan , Columbia , DRC , Ethiopia , Haiti , Indonesia , Iraq , Kenya , Myanmar , Nepal , OPT , Somalia , Sudan Uganda and Zimbabwe .

The objectives of ERFs are to enable mainly NGOs (which do not have direct access the CERF) and UN agencies to respond quickly and effectively by

       Making funds available to NGOs, and in urgent cases, UN agencies, to cover start-up costs; and

       Making funds available to NGOs and UN agencies in cases of rapidly changing circumstances and humanitarian needs where gaps need to be filled and other donor mechanisms are unavailable.

Useful document: Basic Facts - Mapping (as of 19 Feb 2010 ) - Donors (as of 19 Feb 2010 )




Source: http://www.humanitarianreform.org/humanitarianreform/Default.aspx?tabid=244 and http://ochaonline.un.org/tabid/5839/language/en-US/Default.aspx

Link:  ERF website

Useful document: Review of OCHA Emergency R esponse Funds (ERFs)



2) Common Humanitarian Funds (CHFs)


The main objective of Common Humanitarian Funds (CHFs) is to provide early and predictable funding to the most critical humanitarian needs as identified and formulated in a CAP . CHFs will however also maintain an emergency reserve (typically max 10% of total funding) for responding to unplanned emergency needs outside the CAP . All humanitarian partners participating in the CAP process are eligible to receive funding from a CHF. Given that the objective of a CHF is to provide core funding towards the CAP , these funds are often much larger than ERFs and will involve cluster/sector leads and other humanitarian partners in an elaborate prioritization and allocation process. CHFs are managed by the Humanitarian Coordinator supported by a dedicated Advisory Group and with the OCHA country office providing fund managemen   t support. In all existing funds UNDP is financial fund manager (administrative agent) and has also been tasked with subcontracting NGOs on behalf of the CHF (managing agent). CHFs are currently established in three countries: DRC and Sudan since 2006, and CAR since 2008.

More on CHFs:  Basic Facts  -  Mapping (as of 19 Feb 2010 )  -  Donors (as of 19 Feb 2010 )


Source: http://ochaonline.un.org/tabid/5839/language/en-US/Default.aspx

3) Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF)

The Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), which was the first concrete outcome of the Secretary-General’s reform process and the Millennium Summit, was launched on 9 March 2006 to achieve the following objectives:

       Promote early action and response to reduce loss of life;

       Enhance response to time-critical requirements;

       Strengthen core elements of humanitarian response in under-funded crises


The Fund represents an important international multilateral funding instrument that saves lives through the provision of rapid initial funding for life-saving assistance at the onset of humanitarian crises and critical support for poorly-funded, essential humanitarian response operations. The CERF is authorized to raise up to US$ 500 million, including a grant facility of up to $450 million and a loan facility of $50 million. The CERF is funded by voluntary contributions from around the globe from Member States of the United Nations, private businesses, foundations and individuals. Since March 2006, the grant component of CERF has received pledges and contributions from over 110 public and private donors of more than US$ 1.6 billion.


The Fund is managed by the Emergency Relief Coordinator (ERC), on behalf of the United Nations Secretary-General. The Fund allows the UN to react immediately when a disaster strikes by making funding available for life-saving activities to eligible agencies such as UN and its funds, programmes, and specialized agencies and the International Organization for Migration ( IOM ).

CERF is intended to complement – not substitute for – existing humanitarian planning and funding mechanisms such as consolidated and flash appeals.  The CERF provides seed funds to jump-start critical operations and fund life-saving programmes not yet covered by other donors.

Link:  CERF w e b site .

Resource section source: http://ochaonline.un.org/tabid/5839/language/en-US/Default.aspx and http://www.humanitarianreform.org/humanitarianreform/Default.aspx?tabid=72

Source: Humanitarian Reform/Financing - http://www.humanitarianreform.org/humanitarianreform/Default.aspx?tabid=72



Good Humanitarian Donorship


The GHD initiative provides a forum for donors to discuss good practice in Humanitarian Financing and other shared concerns. By defining principles and standards it provides both a framework to guide official humanitarian aid and a mechanism for encouraging greater donor accountability.


Link: http://www.goodhumanitariandonorship.org/


II. Cluster Approach


1 . Origin - Humanitarian Reform


The concept of ‘cluster approach’ was   an outcome of the Humanitarian Reform process   in 2005 which was led by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC)   comprising NGO consortia, Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, IOM, World Bank, and UN agencies.


The Reform identified three key axes, known as the three pillars of the reform. Those are:

  • Development of clusters at global and country levels;
  • Strengthening of the role of the Humanitarian coordinator at field level;
  • Modification of some aspects of the funding mechanisms


Those three pillars rely on the principle of strengthening partnerships between all actors as the key to improved coordination.


(Source: Logistics Cluster General Presentation – November 2009)

During this Reform process, the cluster approach was proposed as a way of addressing gaps and strengthening the effectiveness of humanitarian response through building partnerships. Moreover the cluster approach ensures predictability and accountability in international responses to humanitarian emergencies, by clarifying the division of labour among organisations, and better defining their roles and responsibilities within the different sectors of the response. It is about making the international humanitarian community more structured, accountable and professional, so that it can be a better partner for host governments, local authorities and local civil society.

There are now 11 sectors/clusters. WFP was designated as the lead agency of the Logistics Cluster and is therefore responsible for coordinating logistics support for the humanitarian community. The 11 designated global cluster leads are shown in below table.


Global Cluster Leads

Sector or Area of Activity

Global Cluster Lead



Camp Coordination/Management:         IDPs (from conflict)
                                                                                                          Disaster situations



Early Recovery



Save The Children - United Kingdom

Emergency Shelter:       IDPs (from conflict)
                                                                Disaster situations

IFRC (Convener)*

Emergency Telecommunications








Protection:   IDPs (from conflict)
                                Disasters/civilians affected by conflict (other than IDPs)**


Water, Sanitation and Hygiene


* IFRC has made a commitment to provide leadership to the broader humanitarian community in Emergency Shelter in disaster situations, to consolidate best practice, map capacity and gaps, and lead coordinated response. IFRC has committed to being a ‘convener’ rather than a ‘cluster lead’.   In an MOU between IFRC and OCHA it was agreed that IFRC would not accept accountability obligations beyond those defined in its Constitutions and own policies and that its responsibilities would leave no room for open-ended or unlimited obligations. It has therefore not committed to being ‘provider of last resort’ nor is it accountable to any part of the UN system.
** UNHCR is the lead of the global Protection Cluster.   However, at the country level in disaster situations or in complex emergencies without significant displacement, the three core protection-mandated agencies (UNHCR, UNICEF and OHCHR) will consult closely and, under the overall leadership of the HC/RC, agree which of the three will assume the role of Lead for protection.

Please note the Food sector is not a Cluster at the global level as it was not identified as a gap area during the humanitarian reform process. However, food clusters may and do exist at the field level where required.  



Above table from: http://www.humanitarianreform.org/humanitarianreform/Default.aspx?tabid=217

Useful documents - Global Cluster Participants


To see d etails of humanitarian reform in action and cluster approach can be found at: http://www.humanitarianreform.org/  

Source: http://ocha.unog.ch/humanit a rianreform/Default.aspx?tabid=70



2 . Aim of Cluster Approach

The cluster approach aims to strengthen overall response capacity as well as the effectiveness of the response in five key ways:

       To ensure sufficient global capacity is built up and maintained in all the main sectors/areas of response;

       To ensure predictable leadership in all the main sectors/areas of response;

       To r einforce the concept of partnerships (i.e. clus ters) between UN agencies, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement , international organisations and NGOs.

       To strengthen accountability;

       To improve strategic field-level coordination and prioritization in spe cific sectors/areas of response.


The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has stated that its position on the cluster approach is the following: “Among the components of the Movement, the  ICRC is not taking part in the cluster approach. Nevertheless, coordination between the ICRC and the UN will continue to the extent necessary to achieve efficient operational complementarity and a strengthened response for people affected by armed conflict and other situations of violence. At the global level, the ICRC participates as an observer in many of the cluster working group meetings.”

3 . Global Cluster Leads

Complementing arrangements already in place for some sectors or areas of activity, global cluster leads were identified and agreed upon. Accountable to the Emergency Relief Coordinator , the global cluster leads engage in activities in three main areas:

Standards and policy-setting

       Consolidation and dissemination of standards; where necessary, development of standards and policies; identification of ‘best practice’


Building response capacity

       Training and system development at the local, national, regional and international levels;

       Establishing and maintaining surge capacity and standby rosters;

       Establishing and maintaining material stockpiles.


Operational support

       Assessment of needs for human, financial and institutional capacity;

       Emergency preparedness and long term planning;

       Securing access to appropriate technical expertise;

       Advocacy and resource mobilization;

       Pooling resources and ensuring complementarity of efforts through enhanced partnerships.

Source: IASC Guidance Note on Using the Cluster Approach to S trengthen Humanitarian Response

4 . Cluster Activations

Clusters can be activated in the event of a sudden major new emergency requiring a multi-sectoral response with the participation of a wide range of international humanitarian actors as well as during ongoing emergencies. Specific circumstances are:

       When the HC / RC informs the ERC ;

       When the ERC informs the global cluster leads ;

       When the g lobal cluster leads assess a situation to determine that there is a need .


“The Humanitarian Coordinator (or the Resident Coordiantor in countries where a Humanitarian Coordinator has not yet been appointed at the beginning of the emergency) should consult all relevant partners at the country level and make proposals regarding the designation of any new cluster/sector leads, if possible within the first 24 hours. Following consultation with the Humanitarian Coordinator, the Emergency Relief Coordinator should consult global cluster leads and other lead agencies at the global level on the designation of country-level cluster/sector leads for the emergency in question. The ERC is responsible for ensuring that agreement is reached on appropriate country-level cluster/sector leads, and that this decision is communicated without delay to all relevant humanitarian partners, as well as donors and other stakeholders. The HC should in turn inform the host government and humanitarian partners at the country level of the agreed arrangements. ” – Source: IASC Guidance Note on Cluster Approach


Useful document: SOP Designating lead agencies in new emergencies



5 . Cluster Activities at Country Level

The role of sector leads at the country level is to facilitate a process aimed at ensuring well-coordinated and effective humanitarian responses in the sector or area of activity concerned. Sector leads themselves are not expected to carry out all the necessary activities within the sector or area of activity concerned. They are required, however, to commit to being the ‘provider of last resort’ (LINK TO DOCUMENT: IASC OPERATIONAL GUIDANCE ON THE CONCEPT OF ‘PROVIDER OF LAST RESORT’, web link: http://www.humanitarianreform.org/humanitarianreform/Portals/1/cluster%20approach%20page/clusters%20pages/Protection/IASC%20Op%20Guid%20Note_ProviderofLastResort-F.pdf) where this is necessary and where access, security and availability of resources make this possible. Please see the Terms of Reference for Sector Leads at the Country Level for specific responsibilities of cluster leads at the country level.


Useful document: SOP Provider of last resort



Useful document: Generic Terms of Reference for Sector/Cluster Leads at the Country Level

III . Useful Documents and Links

1. Common Guidelines on Humanitarian Operations

The following guidelines have been developed to ensure consistency in approach and practice:

Humanitarian accountability
People in Aid - Code of Good Practice
The Code of Conduct

Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 (link) or see the PDF version in the Annexes

Four Geneva Conventions of 1949 & additional protocols of 1977   and 2005   (link to http://www.icrc.org)

Principles of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Response Programmes

The Sphere Project (2004) Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response

IASC Guidance Note on Using the Cluster Approach to Strengthen Humanitarian Res p onse

2. Sources of Humanitarian Information (combined with Links – rearranged in alphabetical order)

Alertnet www.alertnet.org   - Reuters service for aid agencies, including latest humanitarian news.


BBC News http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/country_profiles/default.stm   -   Full profiles provide an instant guide to history, politics and economic background of countries and territories, and background on key institutions.


Emergency Disaster Database www.em-dat.net   - Contains essential data on all disaster events occurring in the world from 1900 to present, with country and disaster profiles.


Humanitarian Aid department of the European Commission ( ECHO )- http://ec.europa.eu/echo/index_en.htm


Humanitarian Reform – Cluster Approach - http://www.humanitarianreform.org/humanitarianreform/Default.aspx?tabid=53


International Crisis Group www.crisisgrou p .org   - An NGO working to prevent and resolve conflict, its website has comprehensive information about current conflicts around the world.


IRIN – Integrated Regional Information Networks – www.irinnews.org   -   Useful country profiles for sub-Saharan Africa , the Middle East and Central Asia with daily and weekly news updates and much more vital information.


Logistics Cluster - http://www.logcluster.org/


MapAction www.mapaction.org   - Provides accurate, up-to-date maps showing the location of groups of affected people, passable routes, which medical facilities are functioning.


Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA)/USAID - http://www.usaid.gov/our_work/


OneResponse- collaborative inter-agency website on cluster activities - http://oneresponse.info/Pages/default.aspx


One World Country Guides http://uk.oneworld.net/guides/countries   - Over 50 useful country guides.


ReliefWeb www.reliefweb.int   - Main UN humanitarian coordination website, with daily news about complex emergencies and humanitarian relief programmes worldwide.   Most major aid agencies post reports here during an ongoing emergency.


UK Department for International Development - www.dfid.gov.uk/


IV. References

1) UN DMTP (1997) Disaster Management Ethics

2) ICRC (2004) What is humanitarian law?

3) Humanitarian Reform: http://www.humanitarianreform.org/humanitarianreform/Default.aspx?tabid=53

4) OCHA Humanitarian Funding: http://ochaonline.un.org/tabid/5839/language/en-US/Default.aspx

5) OCHA About OCHA: http://ochaonline.un.org/tabid/5838/language/en-US/Default.aspx