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Welcome to Week 2

The 2010 Pakistan floods were on a scale that demanded international response. In the period leading up to and around 2010, the international humanitarian and disaster response system received some significant criticism. The response to a series of large-scale disasters had continued to show symptoms of limited coordination, poor communication, issues in identifying those most in need, and providing appropriate assistance in a timely way.

In 2005, the United Nations Inter-Agency Standing Committee (the highest-level humanitarian coordination forum of the UN system) acknowledged that the international response to disasters could be improved. The UN commissioned the Humanitarian Response Review which was published later that year. As a result of the Humanitarian Reform agenda, a new framework for international humanitarian response was defined, known as the cluster approach.

Diagram of the coordination architecture in the cluster approach. The Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) and the Emergency Relief Coordinator (ERC) are at the top and oversee the humanitarian coordinator and Humanitarian Country Team (HCT). The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), and government act alongside the HCT at this level. Below them is the Cluster Lead Agency (CLA) Chief of Mission, who is also overseen by the Global Cluster Lead Agency (GCLA). The CLA oversees and directs the Cluster Coordinator.

Clusters were defined as groups of humanitarian organisations, both UN and non-UN, in each of the main sectors of humanitarian action, eg water, health and logistics. Cluster members and leads are designated by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) and have clear responsibilities for coordination.

The Pakistan earthquake of 2005 was the first occasion in which the new UN cluster approach was implemented in a disaster response situation. The Haiti earthquake in 2010 and the Pakistan flood of the same year revealed weaknesses in multilateral responses. IASC then reviewed the coordination mechanisms and cluster approach by making adjustments, building on the lessons learned in 2010 and 2011.

This week

In this second week of the course, we’ll explore some of the frameworks and research which informs how agencies can make decisions during the early stages of disasters. We’ll return to the case study of the Pakistan floods in 2010 to examine and evaluate how the early response was handled.

We’ll consider how we can best understand the needs of the people affected, and how these needs might change as disasters progress.

Finally, we’ll explore the need for preparedness against disasters, and the impact that flawed funding systems have on the capacity of humanitarian sectors to meet these needs adequately.

Further reading

Action Aid International (2006) The Evolving UN Cluster Approach in the Aftermath of the Pakistan Earthquake: An NGO perspective [online] available from https://reliefweb.int/report/world/evolving-un-cluster-approach-aftermath-pakistan-earthquake-ngo-perspective [28 April 2020]

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This article is from the free online course:

Humanitarian Action, Response and Relief

Coventry University