The first responders in any emergency are disaster-affected people and their Governments. When Governments request international humanitarian support to respond to disasters, national legal systems are the main regulatory frameworks to ensure the protection of disaster-affected people.

Humanitarian action is also regulated by binding and non-binding international humanitarian and human rights law, as well as the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence.

Humanity Human suffering must be addressed wherever it is found. The purpose of humanitarian action is to protect life and health and ensure respect for human beings.
Neutrality Humanitarian actors must not take sides in hostilities or engage in controversies of a political, racial, religious or ideological nature.
Impartiality Humanitarian action must be carried out on the basis of need alone, making no distinctions on the basis of nationality, race, gender, religious belief, class or political opinions.
Independence Humanitarian action must be autonomous from the political, economic, military or other objectives that any actor may hold in relation to areas where humanitarian action is being implemented.

The key objective of international humanitarian action is to support national efforts in protecting the lives, livelihoods and dignity of people in need.

Regulation of international humanitarian action in Asia and the Pacific can be understood according to three categories: [a] binding regulatory agreements between States; [b] non-binding regulatory agreements between States; and [c] voluntary guidelines governing humanitarian action of State and non-State actors.

The guide does not list all of the regulatory documents that could be applicable in a disaster, but focuses on those considered most relevant to humanitarian action in the region.

What is the purpose of humanitarian regulatory agreements?

The regulation of international humanitarian action serves three main functions:

  • It safeguards the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity.
  • It guarantees fundamental rights and protection for disaster-affected communities.
  • It rationalizes roles and responsibilities between humanitarian actors.

There are two binding agreements between States in Asia and the Pacific that regulate disaster preparedness and response action:

  1. ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response (AADMER)
  2. SAARC Natural Disaster Rapid Response Mechanism (NDRRM)

ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response (AADMER) is a legally-binding regional multi-hazard and policy framework for cooperation, coordination, technical assistance and resource mobilization in all aspects of disaster management in the 10 ASEAN Member states 2. The objective of AADMER is to provide an effective mechanism to achieve substantial reduction of disaster losses in lives and in social, economic and environmental assets, and to jointly respond to emergencies through concerted national efforts and intensified regional and international co-operation. The AADMER Work Programme for the period of 2010- 2015 translates the intent and spirit of AADMER into a comprehensive and holistic action plan.

Through its Standard Operating Procedure for Regional Standby Arrangements and Coordination of Joint Disaster Relief and Emergency Response Operations (SASOP), the AADMER enables ASEAN Member States to mobilize and deploy resources and for emergency response. It was signed by ASEAN Member States in 2005 and entered into force in December 2009.

South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Natural Disaster Rapid Response Mechanism (NDRRM) is a regional disaster management agreement that reinforces existing mechanisms for rapid response disasters. NDRRM obliges SAARC Member States 3 to take legislative and administrative measures to implement agreement provisions. These include measures for requesting and receiving assistance; conducting needs assessments; mobilizing equipment, personnel, materials and other facilities; making regional standby arrangements, including emergency stockpiles; and ensuring quality control of relief items. NDRRM was signed by SAARC Member States in 2011 and is in the process of being ratified by them.

Non-binding regulatory agreements between States

A number of important non-binding agreements between States that also govern international humanitarian action for the purposes of effective disaster response are as follows:

  1. United Nations General Assembly resolution 46/1824
  2. International Federation of the Red Cross Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) guidelines for the Domestic Facilitation and Regulation of International Disaster Relief and Initial Recovery Assistance
  3. World Customs Organization Resolution of the Customs Co-operation Council on the Role of Customs in Natural Disaster Relief
  4. FRANZ Agreement for the South Pacific Region

United Nations General Assembly resolution 46/182 4 defines the role of the UN in coordinating international humanitarian assistance when a Government requests external support. The resolution establishes a number of UN mechanisms to strengthen effectiveness of international humanitarian action, namely the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), the Consolidated Appeal Process (CAP), the Emergency Relief Coordinator (ERC) and the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC). Resolution 46/182 was unanimously adopted by UN Member States in 1991.

What does resolution 46/182 say about sovereignty?

"Sovereignty, territorial integrity and national unity of States shall be fully respected in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations. In this context, humanitarian assistance should be provided with the consent of the affected country and in principle on the basis of a request by the affected country."

International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) Guideline for the Domestic Facilitation and Regulation of International Disaster Relief and Initial Recovery Assistance (also known as the IDRL Guidelines) are a set of recommendations that seek to assist Governments in preparing national legal frameworks for international disaster relief operations. The guidelines address issues including requesting and receiving international assistance; issuing visas and work permits to international humanitarian personnel; customs clearance of relief items; taxation; and obtaining domestic legal personality or legal status. The guidelines were unanimously adopted by all States parties to the Geneva Conventions and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent (RCRC) Movement at the 30th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in 2007.
World Customs Organization Resolution of the Customs Co-operation Council on the Role of Customs in Natural Disaster Relief highlights the need for disaster preparedness in Customs administrations. It encourages States to implement measures expediting and facilitating relief consignments 5. The World Customs Organization resolution was unanimously adopted by World Customs Organization Member States in 2011.
Among non-binding regional agreements, there is the France, Australia and New Zealand (FRANZ) Agreement, which facilitates the rationalization of international emergency operations in cases of natural disaster in the South Pacific region. In particular, it commits its signatories - France, Australia and New Zealand - to exchange information to ensure the best use of assets and other resources for relief operations. Ad hoc quadrilateral agreements with other donor countries offering assistance have also been formed around the FRANZ Agreement.6

A secondary body of voluntary guidelines governs relations among humanitarian actors and between humanitarian actors and disaster-affected people. These guidelines apply to a variety of audiences within the international humanitarian community. The list to the right focuses on some of the most important humanitarian guidelines, but is not exhaustive.

Before describing each of the voluntary guidelines in detail, it is important to note that an initiative is underway to collect and harmonize the multitude of voluntary guidelines and standards governing humanitarian action. This initiative is called the Joint Standards Initiative and is co-led by the Humanitarian Accountability Project (HAP), People in Aid and the Sphere Project.

  1. Code of Conduct for the RCRC Movement and NGOs in Disaster Relief
  2. Sphere Project: Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response (Sphere Handbook)
  3. HAP Standards in Humanitarian Accountability
  4. IASC Operational Guidelines on the Protection of Persons in Situations of Natural Disasters
  5. Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement
  6. Oslo Guidelines on the Use of Foreign Military and Civil-Defence Assets in Disaster Relief
  7. Asia-Pacific Regional Guidelines for the use of Foreign Military Assets in Natural Disaster Response Operations
  8. Management of Dead Bodies after Disasters Field Manual
  9. Guidelines for Environmental Emergencies
  10. IASC Guidelines for Gender-Based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Settings
  11. IASC Gender Handbook in Humanitarian Action

Code of Conduct for the RCRC Movement and NGOs in Disaster Relief is a voluntary code adhered to by the RCRC Movement and participating NGOs. It lays down 10 points of principle to which signatory agencies commit to adhere in their disaster response work and describes the relationships they should seek with affected communities, donor governments, host governments and the UN system. To date, 492 separate organizations have signed the Code of Conduct. To view a list of signatories, or if interested in becoming a signatory to the Code of Conduct can find registration details here.

Sphere Project: Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response (Sphere Handbook) is an internationally-recognized set of common principles and universal minimum standards for the delivery of humanitarian assistance. It aims to improve the quality of assistance provided to people affected by disasters, and to improve the accountability of humanitarian actors to their constituents, donors and affected people. Sphere standards guide humanitarian action across four primary areas: [1] water supply, sanitation and hygiene promotion; [2] food security and nutrition; [3] shelter, settlement and non-food items; and [4] health action. There is also a series of Sphere companion standards, published as separate volumes, but compiled with the same rigour and process of consultation as the Sphere Handbook. These include:

The Sphere Project is not a membership organization; the Project is governed by a Board composed of representatives of global networks of humanitarian agencies.

HAP Standards in Humanitarian Accountability are another set of voluntary standards to improve the quality of humanitarian action. The HAP set of standards includes a complementary system of certification for humanitarian agencies that allows them to demonstrate compliance with proven good practices in humanitarian action. HAP certification is valid for three years. There are currently 87 HAP member agencies worldwide; 15 of which have undergone HAP certification. For a full list of HAP-affiliated agencies, see here. The HAP membership process takes approximately 30 days. To apply, please click here.

What does the HAP certification look like?

IASC Operational Guidelines on the Protection of Persons in Situations of Natural Disasters promote and facilitate a rights-based approach to disaster relief. In particular, they call on humanitarian actors to ensure that human rights principles are integrated into all disaster response and recovery efforts, and that affected people are fully consulted and can participate in all stages of disaster response. The IASC published the Operational Guidelines in 2011. They are based on existing human rights law and humanitarian accountability standards.

Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement identify rights and guarantees relevant to the protection of persons from forced displacement and to their protection and assistance during displacement as well as during return or resettlement and reintegration. They were established by the United Nations in 1998. Oslo Guidelines on the Use of Foreign Military and Civil Defence Assets in Disaster Relief address the use of foreign military and civil-defence assets (MCDA) in international disaster relief operations. The guidelines highlight the principle that use of foreign military and civil-defence assets should be requested only where there is no comparable civilian alternative. They also provide principles and procedures for requesting and coordinating military and civil-defence assets when these resources are deemed necessary and appropriate for humanitarian response. A Consultative Group on the Use of Military and Civil Defence Assets manages the Oslo Guidelines.

Oslo Guidelines on the Use of Foreign Military and Civil Defence Assets in Disaster Relief address the use of foreign military and civil-defence assets (MCDA) in international disaster relief operations. The guidelines highlight the principle that use of foreign military and civil-defence assets should be requested only where there is no comparable civilian alternative. They also provide principles and procedures for requesting and coordinating military and civil-defence assets when these resources are deemed necessary and appropriate for humanitarian response. A Consultative Group on the Use of Military and Civil Defence Assets manages the Oslo Guidelines.

Asia-Pacific Regional Guidelines for the Use of Foreign Military Assets in Natural Disaster Response Operations reinforce the principles of the Oslo Guidelines and provide regional contexts for Asia and the Pacific. They were established in 2011 and are the outcome of the Asia-Pacific Conferences on Military Assistance to Disaster Relief Operations (APC-MADRO) in which 16 countries from across the Asia-Pacific region participated.

Management of Dead Bodies after Disasters Field Manual is a technical guide produced jointly by the ICRC, IFRC, Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) and WHO, which outlines the proper and dignified management of dead bodies after a disaster. The manual covers a range of specific tasks related to the management of dead bodies including infectious disease risks, body recovery, storage, identification, and disposal of dead bodies. The Field Manual also includes a number of identification and inventory forms among other useful resources.

Guidelines for Environmental Emergencies offer technical guidance to Governments wishing to improve their preparedness frameworks for environmental emergencies and for international environmental emergency responders providing assistance. They were jointly developed by OCHA and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and issued in 2009.

IASC Guidelines for Gender-Based Violence in Humanitarian Settings enable Governments, humanitarian organizations, and communities to establish and coordinate a set of minimum multi-sectoral interventions to prevent and respond to gender-based violence during the early phase of an emergency. They were established by the IASC in 2005.

IASC Gender Handbook in Humanitarian Action8 sets forth standards for the integration of gender issues from the outset of an emergency so that humanitarian services reach their target audience and have maximum impact. The Handbook was published in 2006.


States are always responsible for disaster response efforts on their sovereign territories. External support for disaster response is only triggered if a State's national capacities are exceeded, and if it requests and/or accepts international assistance.

If a Government requests and/or accepts external assistance, a variety of international humanitarian actors may be asked to support disaster response and disaster response preparedness, including the UN, RCRC Movement, regional intergovernmental bodies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), assisting Governments, and the private sector.9 Below is a short description of these different categories of international humanitarian actors.

How to read this section

Each category and sub-category of humanitarian actor includes a short description of who it is and what it does, followed by a call-out:

How does this entity work with Governments?

UN Funds, Programmes and Specialized Agencies (UN Agencies) have their membership, leadership and budget processes separate to those of the UN Secretariat, but are committed to work with and through the established UN coordination mechanisms and report to the UN Member States through their respective governing boards. The UN agencies, most of which also have pre-existing development-focused relationships with Member States, provide sector-specific support and expertise before, during and after a disaster. The main UN agencies with humanitarian mandates include FAO, IOM, OCHA, UNDP, UNFPA, UNHCR, UN-HABITAT, UNICEF, UN Women, WFP and WHO, which support disaster response across needs, from shelter, protection, food security, health, nutrition, education and livelihoods to common services like coordination, logistics and telecommunications.

The senior UN official in a country is usually designated as the Resident Coordinator (UN RC) - the primary focal point for a Government's engagement with the UN system. In some cases, the designation of Humanitarian Coordinator (HC) may also be given to a UN official, making that person the primary focal point for interaction between Government, UN and non-governmental actors working in the humanitarian field. The UN has also established a number of interdependent coordination and response mechanisms designed to support it in fulfilling its humanitarian responsibilities; these are described in detail under the next section on coordination mechanisms.

How do UN organizations work with Governments?

At the country level, UN organizations work in partnership with NDMOs and with respective Government line ministries.

RCRC Movement

The RCRC Movement is the world's largest humanitarian network, comprising nearly 100 million members, volunteers and supporters of 187 National Societies. Structurally, the RCRC Movement comprises three core components:

  1. 187 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
  2. International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC)
  3. International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)

Together, these components operate worldwide with a mission to prevent and alleviate human suffering wherever it may be found, to protect life and health, and to ensure respect for the human being, particularly in times of armed conflict and other emergencies. The RCRC Movement works in accordance with the fundamental principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality.

National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (National Societies) occupy a unique place as auxiliaries to the public authorities in their countries. They provide disaster relief, support health and social programmes, and promote international humanitarian law and humanitarian values.

What does the term "auxiliary role" mean?

It is a technical term to express the unique partnership a National Society has with its Government in providing public humanitarian services. Although National Societies work alongside Governments and public authorities, they are independent and their work is not controlled or directed by the national Government. Each Government must recognize its National Society as a legal entity and allow it to operate according to the fundamental principles of the RCRC Movement.

How do National Societies work with Governments?

National societies are generally the first points of contact for Governments requesting additional support from IFRC (in natural disasters) and ICRC (in situations of armed conflict). National societies are not NGOs, and have a different relationship with Governments and public authorities than registered NGOs. National Societies work alongside national and local public authorities in disaster situations. In Asia and the Pacific, 37 countries have a National Red Cross or Red Crescent Society.

International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) coordinates and directs assistance in natural disasters in support of the National Society. IFRC and its National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies also undertake activities including preparedness, response and development work, including disaster preparedness, emergency health, disaster law, water and sanitation, and humanitarian diplomacy. The IFRC Asia Pacific Regional Office is in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

How does IFRC work with Governments?

IFRC interfaces with Governments directly and through the 187-member National Societies.

International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is an impartial, neutral and independent organization mandated to protect the lives and dignity of victims of war and other situations of violence and provide them with assistance. During armed conflict, ICRC is responsible for directing and coordinating the RCRC Movement's international relief activities. ICRC promotes the importance of International Humanitarian Law and draws attention to universal humanitarian principles. ICRC has been granted observer status to the UN General Assembly. Its headquarters are in Geneva and it has country and regional offices throughout Asia and the Pacific.

How does ICRC work with Governments?

In a conflict-affected country, ICRC and that country's National Society pool their operational resources to support victims of war and other situations of violence.

Regional intergovernmental organizations and forums

The Asia-Pacific region comprises many intergovernmental organizations that offer an array of humanitarian tools and services to Member States and participating states. Several regional intergovernmental organizations and forums active in emergency preparedness and response are described here:

  1. Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management (AHA Centre) and the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF)
  2. South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation
  3. Pacific Islands Forum10
  4. Secretariat of the Pacific Community11
  5. East Asia Summit
  6. Asia Pacific Economic Community

Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) established the ASEAN Committee on Disaster Management (ACDM) in 200312 which assumes overall responsibility for coordinating and implementing regional disaster management activities for the 10 ASEAN Member States. It consists of the heads of NDMOs of all ASEAN member countries. As part of it objective in pursuing an ASEAN region of disaster-resilient countries and safer communities, it adopted the AADMER in 2005. It now provides policy oversight and supervision in the implementation process of the AADMER Work Programme.

How does the ASEAN ACDM work with ASEAN Governments?

The ASEAN ACDM is made up of NDMOs from all 10 ASEAN member states. ACDM members are also the AADMER National Focal Points. The ACDM reports to the Conference of Parties composed of ministers in charge of disaster management.

Established in 2011, the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management (AHA Centre) is responsible for the operational coordination of all activities envisaged under the AADMER. The AHA Centre facilitates co-operation and co-ordination among the ASEAN Member States, and with relevant United Nations and International organizations, in promoting regional collaboration. AHA Centre offers a range of tools and services, including trainings and capacity- building of ASEAN NDMOs and deployment of emergency response teams.

ASEAN Disaster Monitoring and Response System (DMRS) and the ASEAN Disaster Information Network (ADInet) provide monitoring services and disaster information to NDMOs through web-based facilities. The AHA Centre also manages an inter-agency partnership framework between ASEAN and seven major international NGOs13, called the AADMER Partnership Group (APG) to promote a civil-society approach to the implementation of the AADMER. The Secretariat of AHA Centre is located in Jakarta, Indonesia.

How does the AHA Centre work with Governments?

The AHA Centre is the first point of contact for ASEAN states in the event of a disaster. The AHA Centre is governed by NDMO representatives from all 10 ASEAN member states in their capacity as ACDM representatives and ASEAN National Focal Points.

With a membership that extends beyond the 10 ASEAN members to include 26 countries (and the European Union), the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) is a broad- based political and security cooperation platform to foster constructive dialogue on issues of common interest. It also contributes to confidence-building and preventive diplomacy in the region. In addition to the 10 ASEAN nations, current members include Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, China, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the European Union, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Mongolia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Russia, Sri Lanka, Timor-Leste and the United States.

How does ARF work with Governments?

The ARF provides a platform for dialogue through a series of annual meetings. The most senior of these is held annually at the Foreign Minister level in June in conjunction with the ASEAN Post-Ministerial Conference.14

South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) adopted the SAARC Comprehensive Framework on Disaster Management in 2006, establishing the SAARC Disaster Management Centre (SMDC). 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 is envisaged to function 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 New Delhi.

How does SAARC SDMC work with Governments?

It does this through national focal points of member countries, and with ministries, departments and associations within Governments.

Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) is an international organization established by treaty with 16 Member States across the Pacific region. PIF is mandated to strengthen regional coordination and integration through policy advice to and support for the implementation of the PIF leader's decisions under the auspices of a strategic framework called the Pacific Plan. The PIF secretariat is in Suva, Fiji.

How does PIF work with Governments?

PIF holds an annual meeting followed by a number of post-forum dialogues with key Government partners during the year to discuss aspects of the Pacific Plan which can include disaster response and disaster response preparedness.

Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) supports the 22 Pacific Island countries and territories to address the risks posed by climate vulnerability and natural disasters. SPC is engaged in all sciences concerned with the Earth, including geological, physical, chemical and biological processes. The SPC organizes its work according to three technical programme areas: oceans and islands; water and sanitation; and disaster reduction. Its headquarters are in Suva, Fiji.

How does SPC work with Governments?

Pacific Island member countries receive basic geological knowledge in support of disaster response preparedness capabilities from SPC. SPC is not involved in disaster response.

East Asia Summit (EAS) is a regional forum for dialogue on broad strategic, political and economic issues of common interest and concern. It brings together the leaders of the 10 ASEAN Member States, as well as Australia, China, Japan, India, Korea, Russian Federation and the United States. Disaster response and humanitarian assistance are among the wide range of regional concerns covered by the EAS agenda. In 2012, India hosted the first EAS meeting specifically addressing disaster risk management.

How does EAS work with Governments?

Held at the Head of State level, EAS meetings are organized each year following the annual ASEAN leaders' meeting. The specific framework by which countries will gather to discuss disaster management issues has not yet established, but a proposal by the Governments of Australia and Indonesia would create a coordination framework through an expanded ACDM membership. response.

Map of sub-regional organizations: ASEAN, SAARC, SPC

Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) is a forum of 21 Pacific Rim economies that seeks to promote free trade and economic cooperation. APEC comprises an Emergency Preparedness Working Group (EPWG) mandated to coordinate and facilitate emergency and disaster preparedness within APEC. EPWG is focused on reducing the risk of disasters, and building business and community resilience through knowledge sharing and collaboration among its 21 member economies. EPWG has developed a Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction and Emergency Preparedness and Response in the Asia-Pacific Region 2009-2015, which guides its activities in this area.

How does APEC EPWG work with Governments?

APEC EPWG is co-chaired by two member economies for two years. The working group meets once a year with the heads of emergency management agencies and holds additional workshops as required. response.

Non-governmental organizations 15

Civil-society actors can be divided into two categories: national and community-based non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and international NGOs. In addition to their independent relationships with Governments, NGOs assemble themselves according to networks and consortia on global, regional and country levels.

National and community-based NGOs are civil-society organizations that function within national borders only. These NGOs work independently to support the emergency preparedness and response activities of Governments, UN agencies and larger international NGOs. They generally possess strong community-based networks critical to reaching disaster-affected communities. National NGOs can be either secular or faith based entities.

In Asia and the Pacific, 48 national NGOs from 18 countries participate in a consortium called the Asian Disaster Reduction and Response Network (ADRRN). ADRRN aims to promote coordination and information sharing among NGOs and other stakeholders for effective disaster reduction and response.

How do national and community-based NGOs work with Governments?

National NGOs are officially registered as national organizations with host Governments. National NGOs, sometimes with international NGOs, organize themselves according to consortia that interface with Governments on sector-specific bases. response.

International NGOs operating in emergency preparedness and response include humanitarian organizations and multi-mandated organizations that operate independently to provide humanitarian assistance. The largest international NGOs, in terms of annual expenditure, are generally based in North America and Europe, with regional and country offices across Asia and the Pacific and other parts of the world16. There is also a growing number of NGOs based in Asia and the Pacific with programmes of international reach. International NGOs can also be either secular or faith-based. International NGOs receive regular funding from donor Governments, private foundations and corporations, but a growing proportion of their resources comes from the general public in their countries of origin and countries of operation.

International NGOs are represented at global coordination platforms by consortia such as the International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA), Steering Committee for Humanitarian Response (SCHR) and InterAction. Other consortia can be formed to address global NGO priorities; for example, CARE, Catholic Relief Services, Mercy Corps, Oxfam, Save the Children, International Rescue Committee and World Vision participate in a global initiative called the Emergency Capacity-Building (ECB) Project. which focuses on developing national staff skills, facilitating collaboration and creating practical tools and approaches to disaster preparedness and risk reduction programming.17

How do international NGOs work with Governments?

The presence of international NGOs in host countries is facilitated by an official registration with the host Government, and guided by individual memorandums of understanding with NDMOs and line ministries engaged in humanitarian and development activities. response.

Assisting (donor) Governments are central to disaster response. Governments can assist in international disaster response by giving assistance through direct bilateral contributions to affected States, including through the mobilization of of in-kind aid of MCDA. They can also channel funding through multilateral agencies such as UN agencies, Regional Organizations, the RCRC Movement, or NGOs. There are a number of Governments that routinely respond to the needs of disaster-affected states, both from within the Asia and the Pacific region as well as from Europe and the Americas.

How do assisting Governments work with affected Governments?

Many assisting (donor) Governments have established aid cooperation structures, often embedded in their respective Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The day-to-day management of the cooperation takes place through the embassies in the affected countries.

Private sector companies are increasingly involved in disaster response, often as part of their commitment to a corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy. This involvement can take many forms, including as donors to the UN, Red Cross Red Crescent Societies, and NGOs, and as direct service providers of aid. Companies like DHL and Ericsson have been working to support humanitarian logistics and telecommunications for years and are being joined by a growing number of private sector actors now involved in disaster response. The vast majority of private companies' involvement in disaster relief occurs independently.

How does the private sector work with Governments?

Governments may be approached by private sector companies that wish to offer assistance and should examine those offers on their own merits. The modalities for private sector assistance are varied and it may be convenient to reach out to a broader spectrum of companies interested in contributing to disaster relief through the national or local level Chamber of Commerce (or equivalent).

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 guide relations among humanitarian actors and between humanitarian actors, Governments and disaster-affected people to ensure the delivery of coherent and principled assistance.

This section of the guide describes the structure and operating protocols of the principal international coordination framework, with details on how the component mechanisms work during both the disaster response and disaster response preparedness phases. It also offers clear information about how these coordination mechanisms interrelate with one another and how they work with Governments. The mechanisms presented include:

  1. Emergency Relief Coordinator
  2. Inter-Agency Standing Committee
  3. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinators
  4. Humanitarian Country Team
  5. Cluster Approach
  6. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)

Emergency Relief Coordinator (ERC) is the most senior UN official dealing with humanitarian affairs, mandated by the UN General Assembly to coordinate international humanitarian assistance during emergency response, whether carried out by governmental, intergovernmental or non-governmental organizations. S/he reports directly to the UN Secretary-General, with specific responsibility for processing Members States' requests and 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, and mobilizing resources to support humanitarian response; and supporting a smooth transition from relief to recovery operations.

How does the ERC work with Governments?

The ERC is responsible for the oversight of all emergencies requiring international humanitarian assistance and supervises the actions of country-level UN RCs and HCs. S/he also plays a central role in advocacy and fundraising for humanitarian action.

IASC Humanitarian Coordination Architecture*

Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) is chaired by the ERC. It is an inter-agency forum for coordination, policy development and decision-making involving key UN and non-UN humanitarian partners. IASC members are FAO, OCHA, UNDP, UNFPA, UN-HABITAT, UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP and WHO. IASC Standing Invitees are ICRC, the International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA), IFRC, InterAction, International Organization for Migration (IOM), Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Steering Committee for Humanitarian Response (SCHR), Office of the Special

Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons and the World Bank. The IASC continuously seeks to improve the effectiveness of the humanitarian system as a whole. It is currently engaged in implementing changes to improve how the international humanitarian system particularly in the areas of effective coordination, better accountability and a strengthened leadership, through the so-called IASC "Transformative Agenda."

How does the IASC work with Governments?

The IASC and its subsidiary bodies are global mechanisms. At the country level, Humanitarian Country Teams (HCTs) fulfill a similar function and have similar membership to the IASC among humanitarian organizations resident or working in the host country.

UN Resident Coordinator (UN RC) is the designated representative of the UN Secretary-General in a particular country and leader of the UN Country Team (UNCT). The UN RC function is usually performed by the UNDP Resident Representative. 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 an HC to a country is often made at the start of a crisis and 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 INGO participating in the coordinated response system) may be appointed and/or a stand-alone HC may be deployed from the pre-selected pool of HC candidates. The HC assumes the leadership of the HCT in a crisis. In the absence of an HC, the UN RC is responsible for the strategic and operational coordination of response efforts of UNCT member agencies and other relevant humanitarian actors.

How does the RC and/or HC work with Governments?

The UN RC is the senior UN official in a country and the Government's first point of contact with the United Nations. The RC is responsible for coordination of all UN operational activities, and chairs the UNCT. Where appointed, however, the HC 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 country level, composed of UN and non-UN humanitarian organizations resident and/or working in the country. The HC is chaired by the HC, or in the absence of an HC, by the UN RC. Subject to their individual mandates, the components of the RCRC Movement may participate in an HCT. Some HCTs have also decided to include representatives of key assisting Governments in their membership.

How does an HCT work with Governments?

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.

Pacific Humanitarian Team - adapting the HCT in the Pacific region

The Pacific Humanitarian Team (PHT) is a specialized HCT in the South Pacific covering 14 Pacific Island countries. These are also the countries covered by UN RCs and UNCTs based in Fiji and Samoa. The objective of the PHT is to support the Governments of the Pacific to prepare for, and mount a timely, consistent and coordinated response. The PHT has been endorsed as a coordinating body by the IASC and is itself organized through regional clusters in support of national coordination mechanisms.

Clusters are the IASC-managed organizational groupings of operational agencies, both UN and non-UN, in each of the main sectors of humanitarian action. 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. 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. To the extent possible, clusters mirror national response structures18 , use terminology that is close or identical to that of the national sectors, and are co- chaired by Government representatives. Where required, country-level clusters can be established at the onset of a disaster and may or may not remain following the initial phases of response based on in-country assessment of continued need.

Globally, nine clusters have been established with designated Cluster Leads Agencies that are accountable to the IASC. At the country level, the clusters are led by country- level representatives accountable to the UN RC or the HC. However, cluster lead agencies at the country level need not be the same agency as the sector's Global Cluster Lead. Instead, cluster leadership should be based on the local context and capacities of agencies already on the ground. The structure of clusters at the country level should also be adapted to local needs. Similarly, sub-national clusters may be established where required, and once again, the local cluster leads need not be the same as those designated at country level. Uniquely in the Pacific, the PHT is a regional cluster arrangement that supports national coordination arrangements.

How do clusters work with Governments?

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. Regional and global cluster work is accessed through OCHA-ROAP at

In the Asia-Pacific Region, clusters and cluster-like structures are currently active in Bangladesh, Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), Indonesia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and Sri Lanka.

International coordination mechanisms: someuseful distinctions

  1. HC vs. RC

    The HC supports coordination of humanitarian operations among all international actors - UN and non-UN. The RC supports coordination of development operations among UN actors only.

  2. HCT vs. UNCT

    Whereas the UNCT includes the heads of all UN agencies plus IOM, the HCT comprises only heads of the UN's humanitarian agencies, as well as non-UN humanitarian actors (i.e. NGOs and the RCRC Movement). The UNCT focuses on the UN's support for national development programmes, while the HCT addresses strategic issues of the wider humanitarian community.

    Note: Like the HC and RC functions, the UNCT and HCT coexist; they do not replace each other. The RC or HC is responsible for ensuring complementarity between the two entities.

  3. HCT vs. Clusters

    The HCT provides strategic and policy guidance to the overall response effort, whereas country-level clusters implement the strategy by coordinating operational response efforts in their respective areas of expertise. Country cluster lead agencies are members of the HCT.

HCT Coordination and Interface with Government


Do clusters always look the same in every country

There is wide diversity in how clusters are activated and de-activated at country levels. The Guidance Note on Using the Cluster Approach to Strengthen Humanitarian Response exists, but does not call for activation of clusters in every instance. In certain emergency situations, only some clusters are activated; others, additional sub-clusters are required to address the breadth of coordination needs. While UN and NGOs are designated as cluster leads at the global level, clusters may be led by other organizations, including Government entities, at the country and local levels.

Country-level clusters are generally activated for the first time in emergency situations, but clusters can exist in varying forms before, during and after a disaster. For example, in the Philippines, clusters were introduced to respond to large-scale floods in 2006. However, due to recurrent disasters in the country and a resurgence of armed conflict in Mindanao in 2008, the Government was encouraged to institutionalize the coordination approach via a national decree. As a result, clusters are now a permanent coordination mechanism in the country, managed by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (NDRRM) Council. The NDRRM Council is composed of Government line ministries, but will soon include five national NGOs and the Philippines Red Cross National Society. Representatives of Government entities function as the cluster leads in the country.19

Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is an Office of the UN Secretariat that provides institutional support to the ERC at the global level and UN RCs and HCs at country level to coordinate humanitarian action, advocate for the rights of people in need, develop humanitarian policy and analysis, manage humanitarian information systems and oversee humanitarian pooled funds. OCHA is headquartered in Geneva and New York with a strong presence at the regional and country levels in Asia and the Pacific:

  1. OCHA Regional Office in Asia and the Pacific (ROAP) is located in Bangkok. It provides support to 36 countries in South Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
  2. OCHA Regional Office for the Pacific (ROP) is based in Fiji. It supports 14 Pacific Island countries under the leadership of two UN RCs in Fiji and Samoa. In addition, it provides support to the PHT.
  3. OCHA maintains Country Offices in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Indonesia, Pakistan and the Philippines, providing support to the Humanitarian Coordinators and the local HCTs.
  4. Humanitarian Advisory Teams (HATs) are small OCHA presences in support of Resident and Humanitarian Coordinators, and are located in Nepal, Bangladesh and Japan.


The coordination mechanisms described here are more effective in a previously arranged coordinated context. Therefore, Governments are encouraged to contact potential partners before the onset of an emergency.

How does OCHA work with Governments?

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 provides support to regional organizations that have humanitarian mandates.