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Humanitarian Coordination Leadership

Effective coordination of humanitarian action in the field hinges upon humanitarian coordination leaders: the Humanitarian Coordinators (HCs) or Resident Coordinators (RCs). In effect, while the primary responsibility for coordinating humanitarian assistance rests with national authorities, if international humanitarian assistance is required the HC or RC is responsible for leading and coordinating the efforts of humanitarian organizations (both UN and non-UN) with a view to ensuring that they are principled, timely, effective and efficient, and contribute to longer-term recovery.
To strengthen the humanitarian coordination leadership function, OCHA works on four tracks:

  1. Promoting dialogue and building consensus among humanitarian partners on key normative issues relating to humanitarian coordination leadership;
  2. Expanding the pool of potential Humanitarian Coordinators;
  3. Improving the leadership and coordination skills of Humanitarian and Resident Coordinators; and
  4. Ensuring that Humanitarian and Resident Coordinators get the support they need to be effective.

Denise Brown, the Humanitarian Coordinator in the Central African Republic, listens to the concerns of women displaced in Bouar. © OCHA/Anne Kennedy

The cluster approach was introduced to ensure that there is predictable leadership and accountability in all main sectors or areas of humanitarian response and to strengthen system-wide preparedness and technical capacity to respond to humanitarian emergencies. To this purpose, global cluster leads were designated in the following sectors:

  • Agriculture/FAO
  • Camp Coordination and Camp Management/UNHCR for conflict IDPs and IOM for disaster situations
  • Early Recovery/UNDP
  • Education/UNICEF and Save the Children
  • Emergency Shelter/UNHCR and IFRC
  • Emergency Telecommunications/WFP
  • Health/WHO; Logistics/WFP
  • Nutrition/UNICEF
  • Protection/UNHCR for conflict IDPs and UNHCR/OHCHR/UNICEF for disasters and civilians affected by conflict other than IDPs

Gustavo Gonzalez, Humanitarian Coordinator in the Philippines, talks with residents of Tiwi Municipality during a visit to the province of Albay in the Philippines a week after Super Typhoon Goni (Rolly) battered the province (November 2020). © OCHA/Martin San Diego

At the field level, the HC/RC is responsible for designating Cluster Lead Agencies for all key humanitarian response sectors, in consultation with the Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) and the Emergency Relief Coordinator (ERC). This is applied in all countries facing major new or on-going complex and/or natural humanitarian emergencies. Effective cluster and inter-cluster coordination are widely recognisedas an essential part of any humanitarian response.
At the strategic level, inter-cluster coordination takes place within the HCT, under the leadership of the HC/RC. The HCT comprises the Cluster Lead Agencies (at Country Representative/Director level) and selected operational partners involved in the response, and it is within the framework of this strategic decision-making forum that the overall humanitarian response operation is guided and led. At the operational level, inter-cluster coordination generally takes place within the framework of an inter-cluster coordination forum/group (at Cluster Coordinator level).
The Cluster Coordinator for each individual cluster provides leadership and works on behalf of the cluster as a whole, facilitating all cluster activities and developing and maintaining a strategic vision and operational response plan. He/she also ensures coordination with other clusters in relation to inter-cluster activities and cross-cutting issues, and in accordance with the Principles of Partnership. Cluster coordination should support national responsibilities and leadership in the respective sectors.