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Views from the Center


COVID-19 is compounding humanitarian crises across the globe and exposing the current aid model as ill-adapted to support the frontline response. We have argued that applying an area-based model to humanitarian coordination would help tailor crisis response to the priorities and capacities of local communities and responders.  

This video explains how:

The current “cluster approach” to humanitarian coordination organizes humanitarian response by technical sectors, each led by a UN agency. The model has improved information-sharing, clarified accountability relationships between humanitarian actors, and reduced duplication of effort. Fifteen years since its inception, the cluster approach has also entrenched fragmentation, and the dominance of a select set of organizations based in capitals. UN agencies that lead sectoral clusters end-up being the main recipient of funding.

Organizing coordination at the local level based on geography rather than technical sector has the potential to address needs in a more holistic way, to better ensure participation of affected communities and to channel resources more effectively. This does not mean doing away with clusters, but rather refocusing their role on their comparative advantage—providing technical oversight.

These ideas are not new. There are successful past examples of area-based approaches, like those in the West African Ebola Response (2104-2015) and other complex crises. At a time when the benefits of locally led humanitarian action could not be clearer, it is now time to generalize the approach.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.

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