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The Humanitarian System

In a humanitarian disaster, there is always a need for coordination in order to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of the humanitarian effort to meet the needs of affected communities

Humanitarian aid

Humanitarian Actors

Humanitarian actors are a wide range of organizations, agencies and inter-agency networks that all combine to enable international humanitarian assistance to be channeled to the places and people in need of it. They include UN agencies, the International Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as Humanitarian Coalition member agencies, military institutions, local government institutions and donor agencies. The actions of these organizations are guided by key humanitarian principles: humanity, impartiality, independence and neutrality.


Coordination is a means of creating an enabling environment where independent organizations can collaborate to improve the quality and expand the scope and impact of their interventions. In humanitarian emergencies where the national government is unwilling and/or unable to bring humanitarian relief to those affected, international support is required. The United Nations (UN) is mandated to support the coordination of international humanitarian agencies in order to deliver assistance in a cohesive and effective manner to save lives and alleviate suffering. In some situations, the United Nations system may have to take the lead in overseeing a humanitarian response; in others, with the national government able and willing to fulfill its responsibility to support crisis-affected populations, the degree of international activity may be limited to bilateral donor support. Having said that, all humanitarian actors involved have a responsibility to coordinate with other organizations to share information or resources that contribute to the priorities of a humanitarian response, particularly since timeliness is of critical importance during disasters.

The Cluster Approach

In 2005, as an attempt to increase efficient and effective coordination between humanitarian actors in relief efforts, the United Nations implemented a coordination mechanism called the Cluster Approach. Its aim is to enhance partnerships and complementarity among United Nations agencies, the Red Cross movement, international organizations and NGOs at both local and international levels. The concept of a ‘cluster’ refers to a group of organizations coalescing around a common sector of humanitarian relief, such as health, protection, and education.