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Humanitarian Coordination Overview

The cluster system was established in Afghanistan in 2008. There are currently six clusters, including: Emergency Shelter and Non Food Items (ESNFI), Food Security and Agriculture (FSAC), Health, Nutrition, Protection and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), as well as a Refugee and Returnee Response Plan as led by UNHCR. The Protection Cluster hosts five sub-clusters, including: Child Protection in Emergencies, Gender Based Violence, Housing, Land and Property Task Force and Mine Action, while UNHCR has also been running the IDP Task Force, which is currently undergoing transition to OCHA.  Aviation is led by WFP with service provision through UNHAS.

The Inter-Cluster Coordination Team (ICCT) oversees the Cash and Voucher Working Group and Emergency Preparedness Sub-Working Group (EPSWG). At the regional level, humanitarian coordination is facilitated through a number of mechanisms including humanitarian regional teams (HRT), operational coordination teams (OCT), sub-national clusters and technical working groups.  Humanitarian coordination mechanisms at the regional and provincial levels are largely determined by existing capacities and coordination needs.

In 2015, the Afghanistan Coordination Architecture Review was undertaken by OCHA to assess whether the cluster coordination architecture in place is fit for purpose.  The review provided an opportunity for the Humanitarian Coordinator and Humanitarian Country Team to strengthen the coordination setup in country and consider issues in relation to expansion, transition, de-activation or merging of clusters or sectoral and other humanitarian coordination arrangements. The final report and key recommendations of the Architecture Review was released and presented in December 2015, which can be found below. 

The clusters work together through the inter-cluster coordination forum as well as through having representatives participating in other relevant cluster meetings and bi-lateral discussions concerning individual projects and issues.  Below is a description of the different coordination mechanisms currently active in Afghanistan.

Humanitarian Country Team (HCT)

The Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) serves as a strategic, policy-level and decision-making forum that guides principled humanitarian action in Afghanistan.  The ‘core’ HCT is composed of the Humanitarian Coordinator (HC), six representatives of UN humanitarian agencies (including those with cluster lead responsibilities), six representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGO) and one representative of the UN Secretariat (OCHA). Standing invitations with observer status include the Red Cross Movement, the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief and Development (ACBAR) and one donor representative (currently DG ECHO).  The HCT guides the ICCT and holds expanded HCT meetings every other meeting to allow for meeting with Cluster Coordinators to discuss interrelated operational and strategic issues.

Inter-Cluster Coordination Team (ICCT)

Inter-cluster coordination is a cooperative effort amongst clusters and the HCT to assure coherence in achieving common objectives, avoiding duplication and ensuring areas of need are prioritized. Inter-cluster coordination takes place at the national level on a monthly basis to coordinate the implementation of response through each step of the humanitarian programme cycle. Guided by the HCT, inter-cluster coordination provides a platform for clusters to work together to advance the delivery of assistance to affected people effectively and efficiently.

The ICCT is chaired by OCHA on behalf of the HC, and composed of all Coordinators of the six active clusters in Afghanistan, in addition to the NGO co-leads representing their cluster. The ICCT is a monthly platform for technical information exchange on cluster-specific strategies, and advises the HCT on humanitarian action of an inter-cluster nature.


Cluster meetings occur monthly at the national level and are coordinated by the respective cluster lead agencies through Cluster Coordinators.  Meetings are attended by cluster partners, members and observers and aim to strategize and coordinate humanitarian activities at the cluster or sector level, as well as to share information on challenges and bottlenecks faced at the operational level.  Clusters have strategic advisory groups to inform high level strategy and direction of the group, while many clusters also have technical working groups depending on emerging needs. Sub-national clusters exist depending on need and capacity, with cluster focal points often participating in other coordination forums and calling ad hoc cluster specific meetings as necessary.

Gender in Humanitarian Action (GiHA) Sub-working group

As a technical working group of the UNCT-led Gender Working Group (GWG), the Gender in Humanitarian Action (GiHA) sub-working group was established towards the end of 2015 to provide technical support to clusters and other organizations in promoting gender equality in humanitarian programming. Chaired by UN Women in collaboration with OCHA, the group is composed of a representatives from each Cluster or sector stakeholder of the humanitarian community including the GWG, and will be responsible for raising awareness, building capacity and monitoring the work of the humanitarian community in Afghanistan, as well as working to find synergy with development actors to mitigate the impact of the protracted crisis on sustainable development.

Humanitarian Donor Group (HDG)

The overall objective of the Humanitarian Donor Group (HDG) is to contribute to an effective, efficient and principled humanitarian response. The HDG also encourages donor states to endorse and implement the principles of Good Humanitarian Donorship. The HDG meets monthly and is chaired by DG ECHO, with membership for all bilateral donors with investments in humanitarian programming. Implementers and stakeholders are invited as needed/appropriate on an ad hoc basis depending on items for discussion. The HCT, ICCT and Afghan Humanitarian Forum meetings feed into the HDG. 

Afghan Humanitarian Forum (AHF)

The Afghan Humanitarian Forum (AHF) is a coordination forum co-facilitated by the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief (ACBAR) and the OCHA Head of Office. The AHF meets monthly and focuses on the coordination of NGO activities at the national and sub-national levels, advocacy on issues affecting the work of NGOs, representation/ communication on the interests of NGOs to other humanitarian stakeholders and the government, and promotion of high ethical and professional standards amongst the NGO community. The AHF is composed all heads of International and National humanitarian NGOs and feeds into the HCT.