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date: 20 August 2017

Cross-Sector Coordination and Collaboration for Humanitarian Assistance in a Disaster Recovery Setting

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Natural Hazard Science. Please check back later for the full article.

While known to be important and essential for improved effectiveness and efficiency, cross-sector coordination and collaboration between different actors engaged in post-disaster recovery is fraught with complications. Among the challenges are: who leads and how; the capacity and roles of the host government; governance structures within organizations (which may differ a great deal); assumptions of power; trade-offs between valuing relationships and “getting the job done”; and the varying constraints (and opportunities) of accountability.

Recognizing the need to improve joint actions for a better response, the Humanitarian Reform Agenda (HRA), begun in 2005, led to the remolding of collective models of disaster response and the adoption of the global cluster system, essentially organized around the delivery of goods and services (sectors) by traditional aid actors (the United Nations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement).

While the cluster system has largely been acknowledged as an improvement in collaboration between actors, a perennial challenge of cross-sector coordination remains. One of the opportunities for improvement lies in better and more predictable leadership, one of the key areas identified by the HRA. Another opportunity lies in changing the focus away from a supply-driven approach of prioritizing what aid providers deliver towards a demand-driven understanding, such as that offered by area-based approaches, wherein sectors are more closely aligned.

A common form of collaboration within aid is partnership between various actors (e.g., the UN, NGOs). Partnerships assume a relationship that is more than a constructing relationship: effective partnerships emphasize the need for transparency and equity alongside being results-oriented and competent. Recognizing this, The Grand Bargain, resulting from the World Humanitarian Summit, noted that aid providers should “engage with local and national responders in a spirit of partnership and aim to reinforce rather than replace local and national capacities”.

Partnerships, however, fall short all too often, especially when one partner has power over the other, which is often the case. The report Time to Let Go, from the think-tank the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) notes, for instance that, “the relationships between donor and implementer, aid provider and recipient, remain controlling and asymmetrical, and partnerships and interactions remain transactional and competitive, rather than reciprocal and collective.” The challenge remains to achieve the task in hand while at the same time engaging in effective collaborative mechanisms that value the nature of the relationship. If this is not achieved, effective post-disaster recovery can be jeopardized.