The cluster system was established in Afghanistan in 2008. There are currently six clusters, including: Emergency Shelter and Non-Food Items (ES-NFI), Food Security and Agriculture (FSAC), Health, Nutrition, Protection and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), as well as the Education in Emergencies Working Group. The Protection Cluster hosts four sub-clusters, including: Child Protection in Emergencies, Gender Based Violence, Housing, Land and Property Task Force and Mine Action.
The Inter-Cluster Coordination Team (ICCT) oversees the Cash and Voucher Working Group (CVWG); the Accountability to Affected Populations (AAP) Working Group; Gender in Humanitarian Action (GiHA) Working Group; and Disability Inclusion Working Group (DIWG), while the Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Working Group and the COVID-19 Risk Communications and Community Engagement (RCCE) Sub-Working Groups are placed under the umbrella of the Health Cluster and AAP Working Group, respectively. Logistics Working Group and Aviation are led by WFP with aviation service provision through UNHAS. 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.
In 2019, 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.
In line with prioritised recommendations from a Peer-2-Peer (P2P) mission which came to Afghanistan between March and April 2019, some key frameworks birthed include a HCT Compact (setting out key commitments of HCT members towards the Humanitarian Coordinator (HC) and one another in order to reinforce collective accountability to people in need of humanitarian and protection assistance); an accountability Framework between Kabul and the field (an operational companion document to the HCT Compact outlining a set of minimum expectations and agreed priorities for improvement in coordination between Kabul and regions); a HCT Protection Strategy; and an action plan for protection of sexual exploitation and abuse (PSEA) under the auspices of a PSEA Taskforce established in mid-2019; and increased accountability for cross cutting issues with the reinvigoration of the CVWG; AAP WG; GiHA WG; and the DIWG.
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. Afghanistan's HCT is comprised of core humanitarian UN agencies, seven NGO representatives (4 national and 3 international) as elected by the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief (ACBAR – the umbrella organization for NGOs in Afghanistan), and three donors. Additional members/observers include Observers include ACBAR, UNAMA Human Rights, UNDP, World Bank, ICRC, INSO and most recently MSF. NGO representatives rotate on an annual basis as elected by ACBAR. The HCT meets weekly, encouraging participation at the Head of Agency level.
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 the operational arm of the HCT. Chaired by OCHA, it sees standing membership from six Clusters – Emergency Shelter and Non-food Items (ES-NFI); Food Security and Agriculture (FSAC); Health, Nutrition, Protection, and Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) – and one working group for Education in Emergencies. The ICCT also sees membership from key Sub-Clusters or leads for specific areas of responsibility including Child Protection, Gender-Based Violence (GBV), Mine Action, Housing Land and Property, and Mental Health and Psychosocial Support. Key organisations involved in displacement and overall humanitarian needs data analysis – such as REACH Initiative and IOM (through its Displacement Tracking Matrix) – are also regular attendees.
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.
Humanitarian Access Group (HAG):The HAG is co-chaired by OCHA and NRC. The HAG enjoys membership from both UN and NGOs working in the humanitarian sector and reports directly to the HCT. The HAG focuses on systematic recording, negotiation and solving of access constraints in humanitarian response, and setting an overall strategic framework to guide operational partners’ engagement on such issues. The HAG meets fortnightly.
Protection Against Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (PSEA) Taskforce: The PSEA Taskforce is co-chaired by UNFPA and DRC. The Group is chaired by a dedicated PSEA Coordinator (deployed by WFP) and meets monthly and is focusing on implementation of the Humanitarian Country Team’s PSEA Action Plan. The Group reports to the HCT and comprises of UN and NGO partners.
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 with membership for all bilateral donors with investments in humanitarian programming. Some members of the HDG also have a seat on the HCT. Regular engagement with the HDG is done through briefings as well as bilateral engagement. Some members of the HDG also sit on the HCT. The HCT, ICCT and Afghan Humanitarian Forum meetings feed into the HDG.
Afghan Humanitarian Forum
The Afghan Humanitarian Forum is a coordination forum co-facilitated by the ACBAR. It 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 Forum enjoys OCHA’s engagement in discussing key issues. Communications with NGOs is mostly channelled through ACBAR and Clusters.
Humanitarian Regional Teams (HRTs):HRTs have an overview of humanitarian conditions and response in their respective regions. As such they work to coordinate humanitarian response at a regional level with strategic focus on monitoring and analysis of humanitarian needs and trends, emergency response preparedness, early warning and advocacy. HRTs have direct lines of accountability upwards to the HCT and downwards to the OCTs. HRT’s are chaired by OCHA and see membership from UN agencies, sub-national clusters and NGO leadership at regional level. ARCS, ICRC and IFRC are observers.
Operational Coordination Teams (OCTs):OCTs are provincial level inter-agency humanitarian coordination forums. As such, it supports emergency assessments, response and early recovery within a specific province. The OCT reports directly to the Humanitarian Regional Team (HRT) that, in turn, reports to the Humanitarian Country Team (HCT). Chaired by OCHA (or locally delegated NGO), the OCT is comprised of all humanitarian partners present in the specific province. Government Representatives attend in some locations.