3.3. Activating the health cluster at country level

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3 3 activacion clusterPrior to discussing how and when the Health Cluster is activated at country level following a major disaster, it is important to consider the long history of good coordination and collaboration at national level that has existed in Latin America and the Caribbean for decades, both prior to and following natural disasters.

Many countries utilize a mechanism known as sectoral working groups (mesas sectoriales in Spanish, as they are most commonly found in Latin America), and although the scope and working arrangements may vary from country to country, sectoral working groups share the common characteristic of providing a space in which to develop work plans and policies.

The UN Emergency Team at national level (UNETE) is another example of collaboration that is ongoing and not limited to emergency situations. In countries that use this mechanism, the UNETE is made up of emergency specialists from a variety of sources: the UN, in which agency heads designate a focal point; focal points from other partner agencies such as the Red Cross, NGOs, donors and key governmental actors (Civil Protection, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, etc.).

There is clear guidance offered for the implementation of the health cluster in the wake of a disaster. The Inter-Agency Standing committee has developed a guidance note on Using the Cluster Approach to Strengthen Humanitarian Response. Specifically, it says that in the event of a sudden major new emergency requiring a multi-sectoral response, the cluster approach should be used from the start in planning and organizing the international response. The Humanitarian Coordinator (or the Resident Coordinator in countries where a Humanitarian Coordinator has not yet been appointed at the beginning of the emergency) should consult all relevant partners at the country level, including the host government agencies and humanitarian partners and make proposals regarding the designation of any new cluster/sector leads, if possible within the first 24 hours. The Emergency Relief Coordinator is responsible for ensuring that agreement is reached on appropriate country-level cluster/sector leads, and that this decision is communicated without delay to all relevant humanitarian partners, as well as donors and other stakeholders.

For more information, consult the practical Health Custer guide on country level implementation of the health cluster in the aftermath of disasters, which suggests how the Health Cluster lead agency, coordinator and partners can work together during a humanitarian crisis.

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