Humanitarian Health Action

Questions and answers about WHO's role in Humanitarian Health Action

What is the Health Cluster?

A cluster is a group of agencies, organizations and/or institutions interconnected by their respective mandates, that works together towards common objectives. The purpose of the clusters is to foster timeliness, effectiveness and predictability while improving accountability and leadership. Globally, the Humanitarian Reform has identified 11 clusters.

WHO also participates in meetings of the UN Executive Committee on Humanitarian Affairs (ECHA) in order to keep health high on the inter-agency humanitarian agenda, and to secure consensus for humanitarian space with the military and peacekeeping stakeholders of the UN system. ECHA includes humanitarian and development actors as well the UN Department of Political Affairs and the UN Department of Peace-Keeping Operations.

Sector/Area of Activity Global Cluster Lead
Agriculture FAO
Camp Management UNHCR/IOM
Early Recovery UNDP
Education UNICEF/Save the Children
Emergency Shelter UNHCR (+ IFRC, Convener)
Health WHO
Logistics WFP
Nutrition UNICEF
Telecommunications OCHA/UNICEF/WFP
Water/Sanitation UNICEF

In 2005, the UN Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) designated WHO as the lead agency for the Global Health Cluster. The Health Cluster currently has 32 humanitarian partner agencies, organizations and institutions. The aim of the cluster approach is to strengthen system-wide preparedness and technical capacity to respond to humanitarian emergencies by ensuring that there is predictable leadership and by enhancing the accountability and transparency of humanitarian response. The Global Health Cluster aims to strengthen system-wide humanitarian preparedness by ensuring sufficient capacity in information management; surge (supported by skilled experts, appropriate supplies, security and logistics); normative guidance and tools; development of the capacities of national stakeholders; as well as advocacy and resource mobilization. Over 30 partners are working together in the Global Health Cluster, under the leadership of WHO.

When faced with a crisis, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, on behalf of the Secretary-General and after consultation with the IASC, designates a Humanitarian Coordinator (HC). In the country/region concerned, the HC is responsible for coordinating the humanitarian activities of the IASC team – UN agencies and international NGOs – in consultation with the national authorities and with the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator. The “Humanitarian Coordination System” includes three main sets of processes and mechanisms: a) geopolitical analysis and planning to define the need for appointing the HC, b) the individuals' selection, recruitment, job-induction, skill training, etc; and c) the political, technical and administrative support to his/her work once deployed. Through Humanitarian Health Action, WHO contributes to all these processes and chairs the IASC Humanitarian Coordinators Training Core Group.