As part of international responses to humanitarian crises, only a few sectors benefited in the past from clearly mandated agencies to assume operational responsibility. This has led many times to ad hoc humanitarian responses, with inevitable gaps in the implementation capacity and in the response as such. Aware of this, the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) decided in September 2005 to designate cluster lead agencies at the global level («global cluster leads”) – especially for humanitarian emergencies – in nine sectors of activity. The IASC also agreed for the cluster approach to be applied at the national level with a certain level of flexibility.

           In December 2005, IASC Agency Leaders welcomed the “cluster approach” as a mechanism that can help to fill the gaps identified in humanitarian action and improve the quality of aid. This approach is part of a wider reform process aimed at improving the effectiveness of humanitarian action by enhancing predictability, accountability of humanitarian actors and partnerships between NGOs, international organizations, the Movement of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent and UN agencies.

          In June 2006, the IASC issued a Preliminary Guidance Note on the implementation of the new cluster approach. Emphasizing that the humanitarian reform process must be comprehensive, the Emergency Relief Coordinator and IASC Principals invited all relevant stakeholders, especially those in the field, to review this document. This Guidance Note has been developed on the basis of received comments. The Guidance Note will be revised periodically and amended as necessary, taking into account the findings of practical lessons and of lessons learned from the implementation of the cluster approach at the global and national levels.