How can NGOs hold the system accountable?

NGOs can hold the humanitarian system accountable in a variety of ways:

  • Request that coordination meeting minutes (HCT and cluster) are regularly shared with members and accurately reflect meeting discussions.
  • Follow up on feedback provided; if comments were not taken on board in a strategic or operational document such as an advocacy statement, joint needs assessment, Humanitarian Needs Overview (HNO), cluster response plan, Strategic Response Plan, etc ask why, document the response and escalate if necessary.
  • Every part of the architecture requires a document that explains its role and function in country, often in the form of a Terms of Reference (TOR).
    • If a cluster, a country-based funding mechanism and/or the HCT does not have such a document request that it be drafted and finalized in a consultative manner.
  • As cluster members, review and provide feedback on Cluster TOR and management arrangements.
  • As HCT members, review and provide feedback on the HCT TOR.
  • Engage with global and high-level missions.
  • If a cluster or HCT is not fulfilling its mandate, raise the issue. Try to resolve it in-country by engaging with the NGO coordinating body, Cluster Lead Agency (CLA), OCHA, and the Humanitarian Coordinator if necessary. Document your dialogue.
  • Inform your headquarters and potentially one of the global NGO consortia if the humanitarian architecture in-country is not fit for purpose.

How are NGOs accountable within the humanitarian architecture?

NGOs have a range of accountabilities within the humanitarian architecture.

At the country level NGOs should:

  • Understand the humanitarian architecture in both theory as well as local practice.
  • Take the time to share major humanitarian decisions and discuss the strategic objectives of the response with partners and local community leaders.
  • Be engaged, pro-active and strategic in your interactions with the NGO consortia (if it exists) clusters, OCHA and the Humanitarian Country Team.
  • Devote time/human resources to co-lead a cluster at the national or sub-national level.
  • Utilize and contribute to collective resources such as

At the global level NGOs should:

  • Understand the humanitarian architecture in both theory as well as function in the country programs within your purview.
  • Bring field realities to policy discussions via the IASC task teams, reference groups, research institutes and the global NGO consortia.

What is the difference between an HCT and a UNCT?

The UNCT comprises all heads of UN agencies and IOM, whereas the HCT includes only relevant heads of UN agencies as well as non-UN humanitarian actors. The HCT addresses strategic issues of the wider humanitarian community whereas the UNCT focuses on UN concerns. The HCT and the UNCT coexist and do not replace each other.

The Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) is a strategic and operational decision-making and oversight body established and led by the HC to lead and coordinate international humanitarian assistance in support of existing national efforts. It is not an inclusive forum but rather includes only operationally relevant agencies, be they UN agencies, funds and programmes, IOM, international and national NGOs, and the Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement. Some HCTs include donors. Agencies that are designated Cluster leads represent both their Cluster and their organization in the HCT.

In the absence of a designated HC, and in case of a humanitarian emergency, the RC is responsible for setting up and regularly convening a HCT, inclusive of all operationally relevant actors, including non-UN organizations.

The UN Country Team (UNCT) is led by the Resident Coordinator and is the principal coordination and decision-making body of UN agencies. The main purpose of the UN Country Team is for individual UN agencies to plan and work together to ensure the delivery of tangible results in support of the development agenda. In countries where there is no on-going humanitarian emergency, the UNCT, under the leadership of the RC, is responsible for preparedness and contingency planning by UN agencies at country level.

In a humanitarian crisis the HCT is the lead strategic and operational decision making body, in close collaboration and consultation with the host government. In the event that a crisis occurs in a country without an HCT then one will be formed. Until it is formed the UNCT will coordinate with the host government.

How is it determined if the government is part of the cluster?

The government is the primary responder. They may not, however, have the capacity or human resources to coordinate the broader humanitarian community in-country. Typically the government is part of the cluster either as a partner or part of the leadership.

There are instances where the government is a party to the conflict and/or a combatant. In these circumstances the best mechanism to ensure effective government engagement will need to be considered.

What is the purpose of sub-national cluster coordination?

Sub-national coordination occurs when national coordination is decentralized and clusters/sectors are established in zones of special operational importance. Structures may be established at more than one administrative level if required (in both provinces and districts, for example, as in Pakistan), though it remains a firm underlying principle that the number of coordination structures should be minimized. Sub-national coordination is critical when responses take place in remote areas (such as parts of Sudan) or extend over a large territory (as in DRC).[1]

Humanitarian operations that employ national and sub-national clusters have been found to be more effective than ones that coordinate through a single national cluster. Though sub-national coordination structures may vary across regions, they should facilitate decentralized decision-making and shorten response time. They are also in a better position to

  • Adapt standards to local circumstances.
  • Work closely with local authorities and international, national and local NGOs.
  • Implement the strategic plan, and cross-cutting and multidimensional issues.
  • Strengthen accountability to affected people.

Assessment and strategic planning start at sub-national level. Different regions may have different needs and therefore different strategic objectives and prioritization.[2]

[1] Reference Module for Cluster Coordination at Country Level, page 13.

[2] IBID

What is inter-cluster coordination?

Inter-cluster coordination is a cooperative effort among sectors/clusters and the HCT to assure coherence in achieving common objectives, avoiding duplication and ensuring areas of need are prioritized.  Inter-cluster coordination takes places at the national and sub-national level to coordinate the implementation of the response through each step of the humanitarian program cycle.[1]

Guided by the HCT, inter-cluster coordination provides a platform for clusters to work together to advance the objective of delivering assistance to affected people effectively and efficiently. It does this by encouraging synergies between sectors, ensuring roles and responsibilities are clearly defined, closing potential gaps and eliminating duplication.  Inter-cluster coordination may also take the form of small groupings of related clusters meeting to address a particular challenge (e.g. a cholera outbreak). Inter-cluster coordination plays a central role in facilitating the development of the Strategic Response Plan (SRP) and assures a coherent and coordinated approach to planning and operationalizing the shared strategic objectives as set out in the SRP.[2]

The RC/HC and HCT, supported by OCHA, determine the shape and functions of inter-cluster coordination during a crisis.

[1] Please see the Reference Module for Cluster Coordination at Country Level page 17.

[2] The strategic objective itself and the humanitarian context will determine which sectors are needed for its achievement.  Some strategic objectives may require contributions from all clusters and others a more limited group and should be determined through inter-cluster discussions with all clusters.  Smaller groups of clusters, potentially supported by members of the HCT, may come together to discuss specific strategies for and periodically for monitoring of their achievement, although all clusters and the HCT need to be aware of progress and challenges to ensure the appropriate overall linkages as necessary