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Humanitarian Reform

Background to the Cluster Approach

The Humanitarian Reform Agenda aims to dramatically enhance humanitarian response, including through ensuring increased capacity, predictability, accountability, and partnership among humanitarian actors. It represents an ambitious effort by the international humanitarian community to achieve more effective and timely humanitarian responses, with better prioritisation of resources, and more comprehensive, needs-based relief and protection. The reform is predicated on the foundation stone of more effective partnerships between United Nations (UN) and non-UN humanitarian actors, and has three pillars:

  • Sufficient humanitarian response capacity and enhanced leadership, accountability and predictability in all sectors/areas of response (ensuring trained staff, adequate commonly-accessible stockpiles, surge capacity, agreed tools, standards and guidelines);
  • Adequate, timely and flexible humanitarian financing (including through the Central Emergency Response Fund [CERF]);
  • Improved humanitarian coordination and leadership (more effective Humanitarian Coordinator [HC] system, more strategic leadership and coordination at the inter-sectoral and sectoral levels).

The cluster approach is one element of the reform package. It aims to strengthen overall humanitarian response, including response capacity as well as effectiveness in five key ways:

  • First, the approach aims to ensure sufficient global capacity is built up and maintained in key gap sectors/areas of response;
  • Second, the approach identifies predictable leadership in the gap sectors/areas of response;
  • Third, the approach is designed around strengthened ‘partnerships’ (i.e. ‘clusters’) between UN agencies, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, international organisations, and NGOs;
  • Fourth, the approach strengthens accountability for response, as well as accountability to beneficiaries through commitments to participatory and community-based approaches, improved common needs assessments and prioritisation, and better monitoring and evaluation;
  • Fifth, the approach helps to improve strategic field-level coordination and prioritisation in specific sectors/areas of response by placing responsibility for leadership and coordination of these issues with the competent operational agency.


Since July 2005, cluster working groups have been meeting regularly at the headquarters level to map capacity gaps at the global level, and to elaborate and implement action plans to address these gaps in consultation with key partners.

For more information on the Humanitarian Reform Agenda and the Cluster Approach, visit the Humanitarian Reform Website.