The ad hoc, unpredictable nature of response to humanitarian emergencies prompted the Emergency Relief Coordinator in 2005 to launch an independent humanitarian response review of the global humanitarian system. The review assessed the humanitarian response capacities of humanitarian actors to identify critical gaps and to make recommendations to redress these.
The cluster approach was proposed as a way of addressing gaps and strengthening the effectiveness of the humanitarian response through building partnerships. The cluster approach ensures predictability and accountability in international responses to humanitarian emergencies by clarifying the division of labour among organizations and better defining roles and responsibilities of the different sectors. It is about making the international humanitarian community more structured, accountable and professional, so that it can be a better partner for host governments, local authorities and local civil society.
The cluster approach operates at two levels. At the global level, the aim is to strengthen system-wide preparedness and technical capacity to respond to humanitarian emergencies by designating global cluster leads and ensuring that there is predictable leadership and accountability in all the main sectors or areas of activity.
At the country level, the aim is to ensure a more coherent and effective response by mobilizing groups of agencies, organizations and nongovernmental organizations to respond in a strategic manner across all key sectors or areas of activity, each sector having a clearly designated lead, as agreed by the Humanitarian Coordinator and the Humanitarian Country Team.
The Inter-Agency Standing Committee is the primary mechanism for inter-agency coordination of humanitarian assistance. It is a unique forum involving key UN and non-UN humanitarian partners.