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When emergencies occur coordination is necessary. Good coordination means less gaps and overlaps in the assistance delivered by humanitarian organizations.

The foundations of the current international humanitarian coordination system were set by General Assembly resolution 46/182 in December 1991. Almost 15 years later, in 2005, a major reform of humanitarian coordination, known as the Humanitarian Reform Agenda, introduced a number of new elements to enhance predictability, accountability and partnership. The Cluster Approach was one of these new elements.

Clusters are groups of humanitarian organizations, both UN and non-UN, in each of the main sectors of humanitarian action, e.g. water, health and logistics. They are designated by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) and have clear responsibilities for coordination.


The Cluster Approach was applied for the first time following the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan. Nine clusters were established within 24 hours of the earthquake. Since then two evaluations on the Cluster Approach have taken place. The first, finalized in 2007, focused on implementation. The second, conducted in 2010, focused on the outcome of the cluster approach in improving humanitarian assistance. The learning from these evaluations led to the IASC Transformative Agenda (TA), a serie of actions aimed at simplifying processes and outcomes.

The IASC Principals “agreed there is a need to restate and return to the original purpose of clusters, refocusing them on strategic and operational gaps analysis, planning, assessment and results”. The aim of the cluster approach is to strengthen system-wide preparedness and technical capacity to respond to humanitarian emergencies, and provide clear leadership and accountability in the main areas of humanitarian response. At country level, it aims to strengthen partnerships, and the predictability and accountability of international humanitarian action, by improving prioritization and clearly defining the roles and responsibilities of humanitarian organizations.

  1. Supporting service delivery by providing a platform for agreement on approaches and elimination of duplication
  2. Informing strategic decision-making of the HC/HCT for the humanitarian response through coordination of needs assessment, gap analysis and prioritization
  3. Planning and strategy development including sectoral plans, adherence to standards and funding needs
  4. Advocacy to address identified concerns on behalf of cluster participants and the affected population
  5. Monitoring and reporting on the cluster strategy and results; recommending corrective action where necessary
  6. Contingency planning/preparedness/national capacity building where needed and where capacity exists within the cluster.

Each cluster is also responsible for integrating early recovery from the outset of the humanitarian response. The RC/HC may recommend an Early Recovery cluster also be established.