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IASC Nutrition Cluster: Key Things to Know

The Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) have recently produced a 'Note' about the Cluster Approach which includes details about the Nutrition Cluster component.

Cluster Approach

The 'cluster approach' is a mechanism that addresses identified gaps in emergency response and enhance the quality of humanitarian action1. It is part of a wider UN humanitarian reform process, aimed at improving the effectiveness of humanitarian response by ensuring greater predictability and accountability, while at the same time strengthening partnerships between NGOs, international organisations, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement1 and UN agencies.

In September 2005, the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) agreed to designate global 'cluster leads' specifically for humanitarian emergencies in nine sectors or areas of activity, including nutrition, water and sanitation (WASH) and health. These nine sectors have been increased to eleven with the recent addition of education and agriculture. It was agreed the cluster approach should also be applied at the country level and for a fixed duration of two years at the global level.

IASC Nutrition Cluster

UNICEF is the designated global lead agency of the IASC Global Nutrition Cluster. There are 34 United Nations (UN) agencies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), donor, and academic/research partner organisations at global level. At the country level, the composition varies but the usual lead agency is UNICEF with partners including WHO, WFP, FAO, UNHCR and NGOs.

The Global Nutrition Cluster provides support to the international community and has provided concrete tools and support to the country based Nutrition Cluster in the following areas:

For implementation, it is important to work with the national structures and other clusters where they have been initiated, in particular the Health, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), Education, Protection and Logistics Clusters. In addition, various NGOs work with the cluster on a geographical and technical area basis. The Nutrition Cluster is working in four pilot countries: Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Liberia, Somalia, and Uganda. In addition, the Cluster is active and pending in a number of other countries including Pakistan (for the recent floods), Ethiopia, Chad, Guinea, CAR, Haiti, Sudan, Madagascar, and Zimbabwe. It is envisaged that the Cluster Approach will be implemented in approximately 25 countries where there is a Humanitarian Coordinator and in a number of other countries as a result of a sudden onset emergency, as was the case in Pakistan with floods in July.

The Cluster Approach is envisaged as a mechanism for improved preparedness and response both in slow onset and rapid onset emergencies. The configuration and role of the Cluster depends on the level of government involvement, type of emergency, needs, and extent of the emergency.

Overview of Cluster goals and priorities

A number of strategic focus areas ('gaps and opportunities') have been identified by the Cluster partners. They include:

Coordination: organisations often focus on one or parts of the underlying causes of under-nutrition - disease, food, care, or water, sanitation and environment - often without coordination. This is partly due to a lack of leadership amongst agencies in the sector and partly due to the lack of incentives to work together as agencies compete for diminishing funds and position. Defined and measurable goals with negotiated strategies and benchmarks to achieve these goals will provide the basis for coordination.

Capacity Building: changing needs, combined with mobile technical staff and often depleted national capacity, complicate mounting a predictable, standardised and sufficient response in emergencies. Capacity building goes beyond training and includes preparedness, response, assessment, monitoring, evaluation, reporting, protocols and supplies. Building and supporting a surge capacity at the country and global level continues to be at the core of the emergency response. The global cluster lead is also responsible to ensure that cross-cutting issues (including environment, gender and HIV/ AIDS) are properly mainstreamed in humanitarian response.

Emergency Preparedness, Assessment, Monitoring, Surveillance and Response Triggers: At the onset of a humanitarian disaster, there is a need for:

Progress has already been made in some areas.

Supply: Too many examples exist of humanitarian response delayed by a lack of appropriate supplies. Pre-positioning supplies, stand-by agreements, facilitating in-country procurement, and clarifying operational procedures for procurement would greatly remedy this situation. The selection of products hampers response, especially in the area of the recently developed special foods such as RUTFs and Ready to Use Supplementary Foods (RUSF). RUTF and RUSF represent a technical step forward that should be translated into policies and procedures for their production, procurement, distribution and use.

The international donor and emergency response community looks to the Cluster Approach as a means to accelerate and improve emergency response. Together with the Country Nutrition Clusters, the Global Cluster partnership aims to provide stewardship by improving the regulation, standard setting and priority setting. The Cluster also aims to assist mobilising, harmonising and ensuring better distribution of financial resources including improvements in supply in order to reduce costs and take advantage of economies of scale. The Cluster provides services including technical support in the generation and management of information, as well as key technical support as needed. The Cluster does this in situations where the local governments are unable or unwilling to provide that assistance themselves. Finally, the Nutrition Cluster is working with national and global partnerships to improve training, capacity building and also to derive answers to some of the most pressing policy and operational challenges.

For more information, contact Global Nutrition Cluster Coordinator: Bruce Cogill, email: or visit

Show footnotes

1IASC Guidance Note on using the cluster approach to strengthen humanitarian response. 24 November 2006. IASC Nutrition Cluster. Key Things to Know. 21 March 2007. Both available at

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Reference this page

IASC Nutrition Cluster: Key Things to Know. Field Exchange 31, September 2007. p16.



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