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.

[1] https://www.humanitarianresponse.info/clusters/space/page/who-does-what


Who is an HCT accountable to?

HCTs have a wide range of accountabilities. Please note that this is not reflective of reporting lines but general responsibility and good practice to communicate and be consultative.

At the country level to:

  • Affected populations
  • Host government
  • Constituencies including cluster members, partners, NGOs that do not directly attend the HCT.

At the global level to:

  • Agency headquarters
  • IASC Emergency Directors

What is the difference between a Regional Humanitarian Coordinator, a DSRSG, a RC/HC, an HC and a DHC?

DSRSG and RC posts are UN positions, whereas HC and DHC posts are IASC positions: that is, they belong to the entire humanitarian community. As such, DSRSGs and RCs are nominated by the UN Secretary-General, whereas HCs and DHCs are designated by the Emergency Relied Coordinator.

Humanitarian coordination leadership posts broadly belong to two tracks:

  • RC-track posts: these are Resident Coordinator (RC) in disaster-prone countries; RC/Humanitarian Coordinator (RC/HC); Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General/RC/HC (DSRSG/RC/HC); and Deputy Special Coordinator/RC/HC (DSC/RC/HC). They are nominated by the UN Secretary-General.
  • HC-track posts: these are Stand-alone HC (HC); Deputy HC (DHC); Senior HC (SHC); Regional HC (RHC); and Deputy Regional HC (DRHC). They are designated by the Emergency Relied Coordinator.

Resident Coordinator positions are funded and managed by UNDP on behalf of the United Nations Development Group (UNDG), the platform of UN development agencies. The Resident Coordinator leads and coordinates the development activities of UN agencies, in support of the national government. As such, s/he chairs the United Nations Country Team. As the most senior representative of the Secretary-General in country (unless a Special Representative of the Secretary-General is appointed), the RC upholds and promotes the UN’s responsibilities with regard to preventing and responding to serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law, including the responsibilities of UN entities and staff in this regard.

The Resident Coordinator is always also the UNDP Resident Representative (RR) in country.

The Resident Coordinator is normally also the Designated Official for UN Security, unless the UN Secretary-General appoints a more senior UN official who is resident in the country.

If international humanitarian assistance is required, the Resident Coordinator is accountable to the ERC for coordinating the response efforts of all humanitarian actors (UN and others). Depending on the situation, in particular its scale, complexity and urgency, the ERC, in consultation with the IASC, may choose to designate the RC as HC (in which case the person becomes known as an RC/HC), or designate someone else as stand-alone HC.

If a special political mission or peacekeeping operation is established and a Special Representative of the Secretary-General is appointed, the RC may be appointed to also serve as the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General. In cases where a Resident Coordinator (RC) also serves as the Humanitarian Coordinator (HC) and the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General (DSRSG), s/he is referred to as a “triple hat”.

Deputy Humanitarian Coordinators (DHC) are appointed when a humanitarian situation worsens in degree or complexity, requiring additional support to the humanitarian leader in place. A DHC can be located either in the capital, together with the HC, or in the region most affected by the crisis. DHCs are designated by the ERC in consultation with the IASC.

Regional Humanitarian Coordinators (RHC) are appointed when a humanitarian response has a regional impact warranting overall strategic coordination at the regional level. The RHC usually supports HCs in the affected countries to ensure overall coherence in the response, build on existing synergies with development actors as well as increase advocacy and fund raising efforts. There are currently two RHCs, one for the Sahel Region and one for the regional impact of the Syria crisis. RHCs are designated by the ERC in consultation with the IASC.

Senior Humanitarian Coordinators (SHC) are appointed in L3 emergencies, the most severe and large-scale humanitarian crises, to lead the humanitarian response. SHCs are designated by the ERC in consultation with the IASC.