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Coordination is essential to effective humanitarian action, yet the core humanitarian coordination and planning architecture—the cluster system—is beset by persistent weaknesses. It is dominated by large international aid organizations and is much less accessible to local frontline actors and governments. It organizes humanitarian action around major technical sectors rather than applying a holistic, people-centered approach to relief priorities. It siloes humanitarian planning and fundraising through sectoral siloes, producing fragmented funding and program implementation. It is heavily centralized, and weak at the frontlines. The net result is a coordination and planning system in which the needs and priorities of affected people are intermediated through an architecture oriented more toward the prerogatives of major aid agencies.
A reorientation is badly needed: toward a coordination and planning system that is foundationally organized around the needs of frontline aid recipients rather than the global sectors and mandates of the aid agencies that exist to serve them. A hybrid next-generation coordination and planning architecture, centered around principles borrowed from areabased programming, could retain strengths of the existing coordination architecture while addressing many of its weaknesses. Area-based approaches treat needs holistically within a defined community or geography; provide aid that is explicitly multisector and multidisciplinary; and design and implement assistance through participatory engagement with affected communities and leaders. Integrating these elements of area-based logic into the humanitarian coordination architecture would better align humanitarian action around the expressed needs and aspirations of crisis-affected people.