Who has the Responsibility to Coordinate Humanitarian Action?
The primary responsibility for humanitarian coordination rests with the national government of the area affected by a humanitarian crisis.
However, coordination may be complicated if the government is: engaged in an on-going conflict; antagonistic towards the area affected; overwhelmed by the crisis, or too weak to provide leadership. At times governments also actively seek international support in coordination to enhance or complement national structures. Thus, there is an expectation and often a requirement that humanitarian actors will coordinate with government and with all other key humanitarian actors.
In some situations the United Nations has a mandate to coordinate on behalf of, or beside, the host government. The circumstances that trigger this responsibility are described in detail in the Section on NGOs & Inter-Agency Humanitarian Coordination Mechanisms.
Guidance for Humanitarian Action – Principles and Standards in the Context of Coordination
Principles and standards guide the operating environment for humanitarian response and humanitarian coordination. For example, the Sphere Humanitarian Charter, the Principles of Partnership, and the Sphere Project Core Standard 2 all refer to the necessity and importance of coordination.
The Humanitarian Charter of the Sphere Project Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response states:
“For our part, we undertake to make our responses more effective, appropriate and accountable through sound assessment and monitoring of the evolving local context; through transparency of information and decision-making; and through more effective coordination and collaboration with other relevant actors at all levels, as detailed in the Core Standards and minimum standards. In particular, we commit to working in partnership with affected populations, emphasising their active participation in the response. We acknowledge that our fundamental accountability must be to those we seek to assist” (The Sphere Project Humanitarian Charter, Paragraph 12). While it states coordination explicitly, the other points, e.g., assessment and monitoring, benefit from coordination as well.
Many humanitarian organisations have committed to the Principles of Partnership (PoP)—equality, transparency, result-oriented approach, responsibility, and complementarity. The PoP should provide a foundation for the objectives of any NGO coordination effort and be a guide for engaging in coordination efforts.
The Sphere Project Minimum Standards (of the Sphere Project Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response in Humanitarian Response) are more specific on coordination. Core Standard 2 highlights:
“humanitarian response is planned and implemented with the relevant authorities, humanitarian agencies and civil society organisation engaged in impartial humanitarian action, working together for maximum efficiency, coverage and effectiveness”.
Some high level indicators are provided for effective NGO humanitarian coordination:
- Assessment reports and information about programme plans and progress are regularly submitted to the relevant coordinating groups.
- The humanitarian activities of other agencies in the same geographical or sectoral areas are not duplicated.
- Commitments made at coordination meetings are acted upon and reported in a timely manner.
- The agency’s response takes account of the capacity and strategies of other humanitarian agencies, civil society organisations, and relevant authorities.
Codes of conduct, such as the Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in Disaster Relief, directly reference coordination as part of good practice. This code has a section on recommendations to governments, the UN, and other Intergovernmental Organisations (IGOs) on establishing a “working environment…‘for effective participation’”. For the UN and IGOs the code includes asking for the provision of a coordination framework, sharing security protection, and sharing information to support the response. It also says “NGHAs [Non-Governmental Humanitarian Agencies] should make all efforts to ensure the effective coordination of their own services” (Code of Conduct, pp. 5 and 7).