Definition of Humanitarian Coordination

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Coordination is simply collaboration between stakeholders or actors to improve results or performance, either during a collective endeavour, or in response to a common issue, event, or context. There is no single agreed definition of humanitarian coordination, but the following definition is relatively comprehensive:


“Humanitarian coordination involves bringing together humanitarian actors to ensure a coherent and principled response to emergencies. The aim is to assist people when they most need relief and protection. Humanitarian coordination seeks to improve the effectiveness of humanitarian response by ensuring greater predictability, accountability and partnership” (


Definition of Humanitarian Context


Humanitarian contexts include sudden onset natural disasters, sudden onset conflict, protracted conflict or natural disaster (slow-onset), and contexts of persistent vulnerability and instability. NGO coordination can be very different in each of these contexts


Benefits of Humanitarian Coordination


In order to ensure a coherent, principled, and effective response, humanitarian coordination should aim to improve the quality of response to humanitarian contexts and events by minimising gaps and duplications, promoting learning and good practice, and respecting humanitarian principles, including the humanitarian imperative, independence, impartiality, and neutrality. Members of coordination bodies draw on ‘strength in numbers,’ which offers potential benefits to NGOs and ultimately the beneficiaries of humanitarian aid. Potential benefits include: 


  • More complete information on programs, impact of disaster, beneficiaries, and context. A more complete view of ‘who/what/where/when’ that leads to better decision-making and programming;
  • Increased efficiency by avoiding duplication and taking part in joint actions such as assessments, evaluations, media events, communications with affected populations, etc.;
  • Improved advocacy by enabling a more representative, powerful, inclusive, and unified voice for advocacy messages. It can also enhance visibility of organisations in the wider humanitarian community and globally. It can also  provide anonymity to a particular organisation when there is a risk to individual NGOs of advocacy messages that may hamper their programmes;
  • More authentic inclusion of local, national and international actors and issues
  • A representative seat at the table so that NGO views are represented in strategy and policy discussions with greater influence at a higher level than can sometimes be achieved by a single organization;
  • Access to funding through collective appeals or sharing knowledge of funding opportunities;
  • Creation of neutral terms and grounds for engagement and relationship-building between International NGOs (INGOs), National or local NGOs, government and United Nations agencies; and
  • Improved accountability to beneficiaries by sharing good practices, collective responsibility, resources, and joint actions.


Given the time and effort that coordination takes, it is critical to have clear goals and prepare for challenges such as:

  • Differences between NGOs regarding humanitarian coordination mandates, purposes, and objectives, which may lead to multiple separate coordination bodies that complicate and duplicate – rather than clarifying and combining;
  • A focus on coordination to the extent where coordination efforts lose sight of the rights and primacy of affected populations; and
  • Representation can never be all-inclusive. Many coordination bodies establishe Advisory Groups or Executive Committees to represent the larger group, which can lead to power differences between organisations. Even the most well-meaning representatives run the danger of losing impartiality and representing their own organisation’s viewpoint instead.