Leadership in Humanitarian Action: Handbook for the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator

Manual and Guideline
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What is the purpose of this Handbook?

The Handbook is a guide to the normative framework for humanitarian action and the operational approaches, coordination structures, and available tools and services that facilitate the mobilization of humanitarian assistance.
The Handbook has a particular focus on the roles and responsibilities of the UN Resident Coordinator (RC) and the Humanitarian Coordinator (HC) in leading and coordinating inter-agency humanitarian action in support of the host Government and local actors, and the skills, competencies and qualities of an effective humanitarian leader.
It is not a prescriptive guide. The approaches to humanitarian action (and levels of priority) will differ according to the context and the type of emergency.

Who is the Handbook for?

The Handbook is designed to directly support the work of RCs and HCs in carrying out their humanitarian leadership functions. It is also a reference for the wider humanitarian community working with or supporting the RC and HC.

How can the Handbook be used?

It can be used to support decision-making in a range of crises; help identify the international technical expertise available prior to and at the onset of an emergency; facilitate partnerships among humanitarian organizations, national Governments and local actors; and plan and better prepare for humanitarian response. The Handbook is not intended to be read from cover to cover, but as a reference with easy access to guidance on particular topics and links for further reading.

How is the Handbook organized?

There are four substantive chapters:

  • Chapter A examines the normative aspects of humanitarian action: UN General Assembly resolutions, humanitarian principles, international law, leadership arrangements and mandatory responsibilities.

  • Chapter B focuses on operational aspects: country-level coordination mechanisms, the humanitarian programme cycle and specific areas of work.

  • Chapter C details approaches to strengthening national readiness and addressing the underlying drivers of risk.

  • Chapter D provides guidance on leadership during health emergencies and disease outbreaks including the COVID-19 response.

The Handbook also contains a supplementary booklet: a quick reference guide for the RC on her/his humanitarian coordination role in an escalating or sudden-onset emergency, outlining the actions to take and events to anticipate.
Each section contains details of additional information and, where relevant, supporting services and tools. The annex provides a more comprehensive list of resources (organized thematically), with website links to support the user in seeking further information.

Explanation of terms

The term ‘Resident Coordinator’ is used throughout to refer to the role of the RC when called on to carry out humanitarian functions – whether designated as an HC or not – and the role of the HC. Any significant distinctions between these roles are highlighted where necessary