Is the humanitarian system broken?

This is the wrong framing. The question is whether the system, as currently structured, is adaptable enough to achieve the shared vision of an ecosystem of diverse actors, with affected people at the center, in which frontline and national responders receive adequate and timely resources. Respect for diversity, sharing power and funds, and flexibility in approaches are all required for this ecosystem to be better reflected in humanitarian action. We cannot give up on our current system, as for its faults, we are managing to aid millions of affected people. However, we can also not be complacent. We must seek and bring about the changes required. We must also be aware of the margins of what the humanitarian system can do, and ensure we are not alone in addressing the needs of affected people. Member states, development actors, host governments, all have a role to play.


Is early recovery a cluster or a cross cutting theme?

Early Recovery is defined as recovery that begins early in a humanitarian setting.  It is a multi-dimensional process, guided by development principles. It aims to generate self-sustaining nationally owned and resilient processes for post-crisis recovery.  Early recovery encompasses the restoration of basic services, livelihoods, shelter, governance, security and the rule of law, environment and social dimensions, including the reintegration of displaced populations. It stabilizes human security and addresses underlying risks that contributed to the crisis.[1]

Early Recovery (ER) should be integrated into the activities of all active clusters.  Early recovery is everyone’s responsibility. Please see page 7 in the Reference Module for Cluster Coordination at Country Level.

ER can be a cluster if certain programmatic needs are not addressed in the normal cluster architecture. For instance there may be the need to establish a new cluster to better support an aspect of early recovery such as livelihoods.  In this case, the appropriate cluster lead agency could recommend to the HCT that a specific cluster be activated, potentially for a limited period of time.  Naturally, there is a desire not to duplicate activities, so careful analysis will occur in advance.[2]


[2] Please see the IASC paper, Implementing Early Recovery as a Foundation for building resilience in humanitarian settings, November 2013.

How is it determined which NGOs can attend the Humanitarian Country Team (HCT)?

The HCT is composed of relevant organizations that undertake humanitarian action in-country and that commit to participating in coordination arrangements. These organizations may include UN agencies, IOM, national and international NGOs and, subject to their individual mandates, components of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. The HCT’s main membership criterion is operational relevance.[1]

When forming or re-invigorating a Humanitarian Country Team (HCT), the Humanitarian Coordinator should ask NGOs to nominate NGO representatives to the HCT.

There are a variety of models currently in use to determine how many and which NGOs represent the NGO community in the HCT; it might be an annual election, the membership may decide that the coordinating body’s advisory or steering group attends the HCT. In some countries it is a matter of what member is able to attend the HCT meetings. Often the NGO coordination body coordinator or chair will attend the HCT meeting with the selected or elected NGO representatives.

If there is not a formal NGO coordination body then consider a series of meetings with senior NGO leadership from a diversity of responding agencies (small, medium and large NGOs that cover the thematic and geographic scope of the response) to determine the best mechanism for effective NGO representation.

For more information on effective NGO engagement in humanitarian country teams click here.

[1] IASC Handbook for RCs and HCs on Emergency Preparedness and Response 2001, page 36.

See also IASC Guidance for Humanitarian Country Teams 2009, page 2.

Are NGO coordinating bodies part of the architecture?

Humanitarian NGO coordinating bodies or consortia are a part of the architecture in that, where they exist, they have a seat on the Humanitarian Country Team.  Humanitarian NGO coordination, while recognized as an invaluable service to the broader humanitarian community, does not automatically occur in the same manner that other parts of the architecture are activated, such as a cluster. Often country-specific decisions play a role in determining how the NGO community should best represent itself.

Humanitarian NGO coordination frequently begins as a voluntary gathering of senior NGO leaders until funds can be raised for a formal secretariat.

For recent guidance on issues and areas to consider when undertaking NGO coordination and when setting up an NGO coordination body please click here.

What are some indicators of an effective HCT?

Every Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) is different but a few general indicators that the HCT is working together to provide strategic response guidance may include:

  • The HCT is an inclusive forum for strategic, high level dialogue where all members feel that they can raise concerns and that their concerns are respected and heard by other members.
  • HCT member and their constituencies are clear on and understand the decisions made by the HCT.
  • The Strategic Response Plan is defined by the HCT and used as a tool for planning and implementation by the humanitarian community.
  • Accountability to affected populations is a regular discussion topic.

What is the Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) and what are the expected roles of different stakeholders?

The Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) is a strategic and operational decision-making and oversight forum established and led by the HC. Composition includes representatives from the UN, IOM, international NGOs, the Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement. Agencies that are also designated Cluster leads should represent the Clusters as well as their respective organizations. The HCT is responsible for agreeing on common strategic issues related to humanitarian action.[1]

The composition of the HCT directly impacts the effectiveness of the group to make strategic and operational decisions for the response. There is usually an inherent tension between inclusivity and manageability within the HCT’s composition.

In general an HCT should mirror the operational actors active in the response, with those around the table being representational of the humanitarian strategy and its key stakeholders. This should apply to UN agencies as well as to NGOs. It should not be assumed that all members of the UN Country Team (UNCT) are HCT members.

National NGOs are seen as critical to ensure linkages with civil society and as a key conduit for communication with affected populations. If there is an NGO or a national NGO-specific coordinating body that forum will facilitate a discussion on how best to represent the NGO/national NGO community at the HCT.

International NGOs, alongside national NGOs, are often seen as the lead implementers in humanitarian response. If there is an NGO coordinating body that forum will facilitate a discussion on how best to represent the NGO community at the HCT.

The role of host governments is highly contextual and tied almost exclusively to a reinforcement of the government’s roles as responder and coordinator of humanitarian action. In lieu of a seat at the HCT some effective HCTs opt to set a regular meeting between the HCT and government officials to get government feedback and support for humanitarian response.

The role of donors on the HCT, even as observers, is under debate. While the presence of donors on the HCT can be useful to ensure that priority programming is funded, it is also a consideration that donors can be a useful channel for advocacy. Moreover donors can encourage the HCT to take a firmer, principled stance and help keep HCT members accountable. Consider too that sometimes humanitarians need a space that is purely humanitarian; a space to discuss and air challenges.

For a recent InterAction study on NGO engagement on Humanitarian Country Teams click here.