Cluster Approach

Under Humanitarian Reform, sector coordination among the wider Humanitarian Country Team is guided by the IASC Cluster Approach. The aim of the Cluster Approach is to strengthen system-wide preparedness and technical capacity to respond to humanitarian emergencies by ensuring that predictable leadership in the main sectors leads to predictable and effective humanitarian response. UNICEF promotes the principles of the Cluster Approach for humanitarian coordination, even where "clusters" have not been formally established.

Useful Definitions

  • Cluster: a "cluster" is essentially a "sectoral coordination group" of humanitarian actors, predominantly international actors.
  • Cluster Lead Agency: an agency or organization that has been designated by the IASC (for global level) or RC or HC (at country level) to lead coordination for a particular sector. The agency formally commits to take on a leadership role within the international humanitarian community in a particular sector/area of actvity, to ensure adequate response including, importantly, ensuring that the cluster/sub-cluster has adequate capacity for coordination, and high standards of predictability, accountability & partnership. A "cluster lead agency" takes on the commitment to act as the "provider of last rsort" in that particular sector/area of activity, where this is necessary.
  • Cluster Coordinator: a person, designated by the Cluster Lead Agency at the global/country level, who is responsible for the day-to-day coordination and facilitation of cluster partners' work.
  • Double-hatting/Dual Responsibility: Where a staff member is fulfilling both UNICEF programme and cluster coordination functions at the same time. Clear demarcation between the two functions is essential.

At the Global Level

  • UNICEF is a Cluster Lead Agency for:
    • Nutrition
    • Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH);
    • Education- co-led with Save the Children
  • UNICEF is a Lead Agency for the following Areas of Responsibility (AoRs) within the Global Protection Cluster:
    • Child Protection
It is important to note that an AoR Lead Agency has the same accountabilities as a Cluster Lead Agency.
  • UNICEF is a key partner in the following global level clusters:
    • Early Recovery Working Group (led by UNDP)
    • Emergency Telecoms (ETC) (led by WFP)
    • Food Security (co-led by FAO and WFP)
    • Health (led by WHO)
    • Logistics (led by WFP)
    • Protection (led byUNHCR)
  • UNICEF is co-chair of the cross-cutting IASC Reference Groupon Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings.

What is the Global Cluster Lead Agency Responsible for?
The Global Cluster Lead Agencies are responsible for establishing broad partnership bases (i.e. clusters) to engage in activities in three main areas: standards an policy setting, building response capacity, and operational support, including global preparedness, training, roster, and when necessary, stockpiling (see IASC Guidance Note on Using the Cluster Approach to Strengthen Humanitarian Response for more details).

At the Country Level

At the country level, UNICEF's role in sector/cluster leadership is guided by the revised Core Commitments for Children in Humanitarian Action (the CCCs), and the Generic Terms of Reference for Sector/Cluster Leads at country level. Under the CCCs, UNICEF is committed to ensuring there is an effective coordination mechanism operational for WASH, nutrition, health, education, child protection, gender-based violence (GBV) and mental health and psycho-social support (MHPSS). In countries where clusters have been activated, UNICEF will usually lead or co-lead the clusters/AoRs for which it is Cluster Lead Agency at the global level to ensure predictable leadership. At the sub-national level, partners also often take cluster/sector coordination responsibilites. As a guiding principle, country-specific arrangements should be determined based on the operational capacity of UNICEF in a given country/context and contextual factors.

What is the role of the Cluster/Sector Lead Agency at the country level?
The role of the cluster/sector lead agencies at the country level is to facilitate a process aimed at ensuring well-coordinated and effective humanitarian responses in the sector or area of activity concerned. Specific responsibilities of cluster/sector leads at the country level include ensuring that (see Terms of Reference for Cluster/Sector Lead at Country Level for a more detailed description):
  • effective and inclusive coordination mechanisms are established, involving key humanitarian partners, national/local authorities, and other relevant actors;
  • timely assessments, planning and monitoring of the humantiarian situation and response are carried out, with clear identification of gaps
  • emergency preparedness is undertaken for future emergency situations;
  • an effective and appropriate response is implemented to agreed standards, including - if required - the provision of assistance or services as a last resort; and
  • evidence-based advocacy and resource mobilization is implemented in collaboration and with the support of the global cluster lead agencies.

The sector/cluster lead for any given sector is an agency; for that reason, the UNICEF head of agency -the Representative- is accountable to the Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator for those sectors/cluster for which UNICEF has accepted the cluster coordination responsibility. The Representative will delegate the day-to-day cluster coordination responsibilties to a cluster coordinator (CC). The cluster coordinator should ideally be dedicated to this particular role, however where this is not possible, staff may be required to 'double-hat' (i.e. perform both cluster coordination and programme management functions).

See Q&A on cluster management at the country level for more information.