Effective disaster response requires careful coordination at global, regional and national levels. As noted above, the UN has established a number of interdependent coordination mechanisms designed to facilitate the interaction between humanitarian stakeholders, Governments and other partners to promote the delivery of coherent and principled assistance to crisis-affected people.

This section of the Guide describes the structure and operating protocols of the principal international coordination frameworks, with details on how the component mechanisms work during both the emergency response and emergency response preparedness phases. It also offers information about how these coordination mechanisms interrelate with one another and how they work with Governments. Figure 8 shows the network of global, regional, and country-level as well as bridging mechanisms that are in place. Specifically, these include:


  1. Emergency Relief Coordinator (ERC)
  2. Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC)


  1. Inter-Agency Standing Committee Regional Network for Asia and the Pacific (IASC RN)
  2. Regional Consultative Group (RCG) on Humanitarian Civil-Military Coordination
  3. Pacific Humanitarian Team (PHT)
  4. ASEAN Committee for Disaster Management (ACDM)


  1. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinators (RC/HC)
  2. Humanitarian Country Team (HCT)


  1. Cluster Approach
  2. Humanitarian Civil-Military Coordination (UN-CMCoord)
  3. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)
  4. ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Action on Disaster Management (AHA Centre)
  5. SAARC Disaster Management Centre (SDMC)

Government-led coordination frameworks vary by country and are usually described in national disaster management frameworks or legislation. It is beyond the scope of the Guide to include such national coordination frameworks here.


Emergency Relief Coordinator (ERC) is the most senior UN official dealing with humanitarian affairs and is mandated by the UN General Assembly to coordinate international humanitarian assistance during emergency response, whether carried out by governmental, intergovernmental or non-governmental organizations (Figure 8). S/he reports directly to the UN Secretary-General and is specifically responsible for processing Members States’ requests; coordinating humanitarian assistance; ensuring information management and sharing to support early warning and response; facilitating access to emergency areas; organizing needs assessments; preparing joint appeals; mobilizing resources to support humanitarian response; and supporting a smooth transition from relief to recovery operations.


The ERC is responsible for overseeing and coordinating all emergencies requiring international humanitarian assistance as well as supervising the actions of country-level UN Resident Coordinators (RCs) and Humanitarian Coordinators (HCs.). S/he also plays a central role in advocacy and fundraising for humanitarian action.

Figure 8. IASC Humanitarian Leadership Structure

Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) is an inter-agency forum for coordination, policy development and decision-making involving key UN and non-UN humanitarian partners. It is chaired by the ERC. IASC members are FAO, OCHA, IOM, UNDP, UNFPA, UN-HABITAT, UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP and WHO. IASC Standing Invitees are ICRC, ICVA, IFRC, InterAction, OHCHR, SCHR, Office of the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons and the World Bank (Figure 9).

The IASC works to improve the effectiveness of the humanitarian system as a whole. In addition to meeting at the Principals level, the IASC has a number of subsidiary groups. The IASC Working Group is composed of the directors of policy (or equivalent) of the IASC organizations. The IASC Working Group’s focus is humanitarian policy. It is responsible for developing policies and guidance in line with strategic decisions made by the IASC; making proposals to the IASC on strategic issues; establishing and overseeing the work of the Task Teams; establishing and monitoring the Reference Groups; and collaborating with the Emergency Directors Group (EDG) in identifying and elaborating policy matters with direct bearing on humanitarian operations. The EDG is composed of the directors of operations of the IASC organizations and focuses on overseeing humanitarian operations worldwide. When required by the magnitude or gravity of a crisis, the EDG may take a more direct supervisory role in a humanitarian response, supporting operational decision-making by the humanitarian community at the national level.


The IASC and its subsidiary bodies are global mechanisms. At the country-level, Humanitarian Country Teams (HCTs) fulfil a similar function and have similar membership as the IASC, and are made up of humanitarian organizations that are resident or working in the host country.

Figure 9. Inter-Agency Standing Committee


Inter-Agency Standing Committee Regional Network for Asia and the Pacific (IASC RN) is an informal coordination platform chaired by OCHA. It has the same membership as the IASC but at the regional-level. The IASC RN’s agenda is primarily focused on supporting emergency preparedness for response at the regional-level; ensuring high quality response throughout the region, including advocacy on humanitarian protection, access and other human rights close to the humanitarian agenda; and supporting the regional contextualization and implementation of global humanitarian policy and guidance.

The IASC RN meets twice-yearly for regular meetings at the Director level. It has two subsidiary groups – the Emergency Preparedness Working Group (EPWG) and the Gender in Humanitarian Action Working Group (GiHA) – that meet on a quarterly basis. There is also a regional cash working group affiliated with the IASC RN.

Regional Consultative Group (RCG) on Humanitarian Civil-Military Coordination for Asia and the Pacific

was established in 2014 to act as a multi-stakeholder, regional forum that brings together humanitarian, civilian and military actors involved in planning for and responding to disasters in the region. The RCG was formed to discuss response preparedness planning, with a focus on the coordination of operational planning between civilian and military actors in priority countries in the region – Bangladesh, Nepal, Indonesia, Myanmar and the Philippines. It also facilitates the exchange of information and innovative ideas; thereby enabling well-coordinated and needs-based effective disaster responses. Finally, it strengthens linkages with other relevant platforms, emphasising in particular the relationship with regional organizations and the Global Consultative Group on Humanitarian Civil-Military Coordination. The RCG is led by Member States in Asia and the Pacific with support from OCHA.

Pacific Humanitarian Team (PHT) is a specialized Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) in the Pacific covering 14 Pacific Island countries and territories. The PHT is a network of humanitarian organizations that works together to assist Pacific Island countries to prepare for and respond to disasters. The PHT works with Pacific Governments and partners to ensure that necessary arrangements are in place to enable effective international support to nationally led disaster response. The PHT has been endorsed as a coordinating body by the IASC and is itself organized through nine regional clusters to support national coordination mechanisms, including two regional working groups on CASH and communication. OCHA co-chairs the PHT with the RC. For more information about the PHT visit: www.reliefweb. int/report/world/pacific-humanitarian-team-commitment-action

ASEAN Committee on Disaster Management (ACDM), established in 2003, comprises representatives of the NDMOs from each ASEAN Member State and has overall responsibility for coordinating and implementing regional disaster management activities for the 10 ASEAN Member States. The ACDM provides policy oversight and is supervising the implementation of the AADMER Work Programme 2016-2020.


One of the first recommendations of the RCG was to enhance the predictability and to develop a common understanding of the civil-military coordination mechanisms and their respective functions during a response. Humanitarian Civil-Military Coordination in Disaster Response: Towards a Predictable Model outlines key civil-military coordination mechanisms and how these are activated during disaster response in Asia and the Pacific in line with global and regional frameworks and guidance. With five different country-focused chapters for each of the priority countries, this publication expands understanding of the unique context for humanitarian civil-military coordination in the Asia region, and seeks to further strengthen linkages between global, regional and national guidance and structures for civil-military coordination in disaster response.


UN Resident Coordinator (UN RC) is the designated representative of the UN Secretary- General in a country and the leader of the UN Country Team (UNCT). The Resident Coordinator is supported by the UN Resident Coordinator Office (UNRCO), and s/he is accredited by letter from the UN Secretary-General to the Head of State or Government.

Humanitarian Coordinator (HC) is appointed by the ERC, in consultation with the IASC, when large-scale and/or sustained international humanitarian assistance is required in a country. The decision to assign a HC to a country is often made at the start of a disaster or rapid deterioration of a crisis, and it is made in consultation with the affected Government. In some cases, the ERC may choose to designate the UN RC as the HC. In others, another Head of Agency (UN and/or an INGO participating in the coordinated response system) may be appointed, and/or a stand-alone HC may be deployed from a pre-selected pool of HC candidates. The HC assumes the leadership of the HCT in a crisis. In the absence of a HC, the UN RC is responsible for the strategic and operational coordination of response efforts of UNCT member agencies and other relevant humanitarian actors.


The UN RC is the senior UN official in a country and the Government’s first point of contact with the United Nations (Figure 10). The RC chairs the UNCT and is responsible for coordination of all UN operational activities. However, if an HC is appointed, s/he assumes leadership on humanitarian response and supports the coordination of all relevant humanitarian organizations (UN and non-UN). The HC is then the Government’s first point of contact on disaster response. In a humanitarian situation where no HC has been appointed, the UN RC remains the Government’s first point of contact and may chair a humanitarian country team as well as the UNCT.

Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) is an in-country decision-making forum focused on providing common strategic and policy guidance on issues related to humanitarian action. HCT membership generally mirrors that of the IASC at the country-level. It is composed of UN and non-UN humanitarian organizations that are resident and/or working in the country as well as national NGOs. The HCT is chaired by the HC, or in the absence of an HC, by the UN RC. Some HCTs have also decided to include representatives of key assisting Governments and/or private sector networks in their membership.


An HCT’s primary function is to provide strategic and policy guidance to humanitarian actors; however, it can also serve as a senior-level central point of interface for Governments (Figure 10). When appropriate, it may help develop humanitarian response plans aligned with national response plans.

Figure 10. IASC Coordination and Interface with Government


Cluster Approach is the IASC-managed framework adopted as part of the 2005 Humanitarian Reform. It established organizational groupings of both UN and non-UN operational agencies in each of the main sectors of humanitarian action (Figure 11). Clusters operate at the global and country-levels to support national Governments in managing international assistance.

At the global-level, clusters are responsible for strengthening system-wide preparedness and coordinating technical capacity to respond to humanitarian emergencies in their respective sectors. Where required, country-level clusters can be established at the onset of a disaster. Based on an in-country assessment of continued need, they may or may not remain following the initial phases of response. At the country-level, clusters ensure that humanitarian organizations’ activities are coordinated and serve as a first point of call for the Government, the UN RC and the HC (Figure 10). To the extent possible, clusters mirror national response structures, use terminology that is close or identical to that of the national sectors, and are co- chaired by Government representatives.

Globally, 11 clusters have been established with designated cluster lead agencies that are accountable to the IASC. At the country-level, the clusters are led by a country-level agency or NGO representatives accountable to the UN RC or the HC. However, cluster lead agencies at the country-level do not need to be the same agency as the sector’s global cluster lead. Instead, cluster leadership should be based on the local context and the capacities of agencies already on the ground. The structure of clusters at the country-level should also be adapted to local needs; in Asia-Pacific, there are 17 countries with active clusters/sectors (Figure 12). Sub-national clusters may be established where required, and similarly, the local cluster leads do not need to be the same as those designated at the country-level. Uniquely in the Pacific, the PHT is a regional cluster arrangement that supports national coordination arrangements.


In-country clusters support the response needs of Governments through hand-in-hand support to line ministries. In-country clusters are accessed through the HC, the HCT or cluster lead organizations.

For more information: www.humanitarianresponse.info/en/coordination/clusters

Figure 11. Cluster Approach
Figure 12. Countries with Active IASC Clusters / Sectors

What is the difference between a Sector and a Cluster?

‘Sector’ refers to a discrete technical area of humanitarian action. The implementation of the Cluster approach seeks to formalise the accountabilities and responsibilities of a lead agency for a technical sector. At the country level, the Representative of the Cluster lead agency is accountable to the Humanitarian Coordinator. This accountability is the primary difference between a sector and a cluster. In countries where the Government has the responsibility for coordination, we often refer to sector leads rather than cluster leads.

Humanitarian Civil-Military Coordination (UN-CMCoord) is the dialogue and interaction between civilian and military actors in humanitarian emergencies that is necessary to protect and promote humanitarian principles, avoid competition, minimize inconsistency and, when appropriate, pursue common goals. The key coordination elements in natural disasters and complex emergencies are information sharing, task division and planning. The scope and modus operandi of these key elements will change with the context and with the focus of the five main UN-CMCoord tasks:

  1. Establish and sustain dialogue with military forces;
  2. Determine a mechanism for information exchange and humanitarian action with military forces and other armed groups;
  3. Assist in negotiations in critical areas of humanitarian-military interaction;
  4. Support development and dissemination of context-specific guidance for the interaction of the humanitarian community with the military; and
  5. Monitor the activity of military forces and ensure they have a positive impact on humanitarian communities.

Where required, a Government led civil-military coordination arrangement may be established. The use of foreign and/or national militaries to support humanitarian operations is an option to complement existing relief mechanisms.

UN-CMCoord is a central component of many responses in Asia and the Pacific because national militaries are often mandated as first responders and standing arrangements for military-military support for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) are prevalent. When the scale of the disaster exceeds national capacity, the affected state, in consultation with the humanitarian community, may determine a need for support from foreign military assets. In such instances, a predictable platform for coordination between civilian and military actors is required.

It is the responsibility of the HC to identify a coherent and consistent humanitarian approach to civil-military interaction and the use of FMA to support humanitarian priorities. While military assets remain under military control, the operation must maintain a civilian character under the overall authority of the responsible humanitarian organization. This does not however infer any civilian command and control status over military assets.


UN-CMCoord platforms are established and led by affected Governments and supported by OCHA as well as other humanitarian organisations with specific UN-CMCoord responsibilities, such as the World Food Programme (WFP).

Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is part of the UN Secretariat and is responsible for providing institutional support to the ERC at the global- level and to UN RCs and HCs at the country-level. OCHA coordinates humanitarian action, advocates for the rights of people in need, develops humanitarian policy and analysis, manages humanitarian information systems and oversees humanitarian pooled funds. OCHA is headquartered in Geneva and New York with a strong presence at the regional-level in Asia and the Pacific.

OCHA Regional Office in Asia and the Pacific (ROAP) is located in Bangkok, Thailand. It supports 27 countries in South Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia and the Pacific, and augments the OCHA Office for the Pacific Islands when required. OCHA Office for the Pacific Islands (OP) is based in Suva, Fiji. It supports 14 Pacific Island countries under the leadership of two UN RCs in Fiji and Samoa. In addition, it supports the Pacific Humanitarian Team.

OCHA also maintains Country Offices in Afghanistan, Myanmar, Pakistan and the Philippines, providing support to the Humanitarian Coordinators and the local HCTs. Humanitarian Advisory Teams (HATs) are small OCHA presences based at the country- level but functionally part of the regional office. They support the RCs or RC/HCs. ROAP has HATs in Indonesia, Japan and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.


UN RCs and HCs are a Government’s first point of contact with the international humanitarian system. OCHA typically supports UN RCs through its regional offices and HCs through a country office or, in some cases, through a HAT. Increasingly, OCHA also works directly with relevant Government counterparts, particularly NDMOs, to provide support to Government-led emergency coordination, preparedness activities, and/or capacity building. OCHA also supports regional organizations that have humanitarian mandates.

ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management (AHA Centre) was established in November 2011 and is responsible for the operational coordination of all activities envisaged under the AADMER. In harmony with One ASEAN One Response, the AHA Centre facilitates cooperation and coordination among the ASEAN Member States and works with a diverse range of ASEAN bodies. The AHA Centre also works with different partners and stakeholders, including the dialogue, sectoral and development partners of ASEAN, UN, and RCRC Movement, international organizations, civil society, youth, private sector, academia and research institutions, and the media. To increase engagement with civil society, the ACDM and the AHA Centre work closely with the AADMER Partnership Group (APG), an inter-agency partnership framework between ASEAN and seven major international NGOs. Together, they promote a people-centred approach to implementing AADMER.

The AHA Centre offers a range of tools and services, including trainings and capacity building of ASEAN NDMOs and deployment of emergency response teams. The AHA Centre has a governing board that is composed of representatives of the 10 ASEAN Member States’ NDMOs and the ASEAN Secretariat. The AHA Centre is located in Jakarta, Indonesia.


As the primary regional coordinating agency in disaster management, the AHA Centre is the first point of contact for ASEAN Member States in the event of a disaster. The AHA Centre’s Executive Director will establish a coordination line with the Secretary-General of ASEAN when his/her role as the ASEAN Humanitarian Assistance Coordinator (SG-AHAC) is activated in the event of large-scale disasters or pandemics.

SAARC Disaster Management Centre (SDMC) was established after the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) adopted the SAARC Comprehensive Framework on Disaster Management in 2006. The SDMC’s mandate is to establish and strengthen the South Asia regional disaster management system as a tool to reduce risks and improve response and recovery. SDMC functions under the auspices of the SAARC NDRRM treaty to improve and maintain regional standby arrangements, among other cooperative mechanisms, for disaster relief and emergency response. SDMC is located at the SAARC secretariat in Gujarat, India. The Centre holds regular trainings for delegates from SAARC Member States.

HOW DOES SDMC WORK WITH GOVERNMENTS? The SDMC works through national focal points of member countries and with ministries, departments and associations within Governments.


The coordination mechanisms described here are more effective if arrangements for them are made before a disaster strikes, and even if they are only activated when required. Therefore, Governments are encouraged to contact potential partners before an emergency.