3.8 Cluster Transition and Deactivation
  • 07 Dec 2023
  • 6 Minutes to read
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3.8 Cluster Transition and Deactivation

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Article summary

To ensure clusters remain active only where they add value, the HC/HCT should assess their relevance annually for protracted crises and within 3 months in a sudden-onset emergency. In case, response and coordination gaps no longer exists, clusters should be transitioned and de-activated. FAO and WFP will participate in such periodic reviews and will prepare transition or de-activation plans, with the FSC Coordinator actively supporting this process throughout.  


Sudden-onset emergency

Within three months

Review the cluster coordination architecture to ensure it is fit for purpose.

The HC/HCT should ensure that clusters have developed an outline of a transition or de-activation strategy at 90 days after activation.

Protracted crises


Review the cluster coordination architecture to ensure it is fit for purpose. Do this more often if strategic response plans are revised to reflect changes in the humanitarian context. Where possible, review before the start of new strategic planning cycles.

The HC reports annually to the ERC on review results, the rationale for structures, and any plans for transition or de-activation. Previous versions of the transition/de-activation plans are updated based on the annual review.

OCHA will coordinate with the HC (or RC/HC) and with the clusters to ensure reviews of the cluster coordination architecture (see 5.9.2). When a review occurs, the gFSC will support the in-country process and share lessons learned. Where an FSC is not formally activated, regular reviews are still recommended for the same purpose. 

When is De-Activation of a FSC Considered?

 The de-activation of formally activated FSC should be considered when at least one of the conditions that led to its activation (see 3.2) is no longer present:

  1. The humanitarian situation has improved, significantly reducing humanitarian needs and consequently reducing associated response and coordination gaps.
  2. National structures have acquired sufficient capacity to coordinate and meet residual humanitarian needs in line with humanitarian principles.
Understanding the Terminology

Cluster de-activation is the closure of a formally activated cluster. It includes the transfer of core functions from clusters that have international leadership and accountability to other structures, including those that are led nationally or are development focused. Functions may be transferred to existing or pre-crisis coordination and response structures, or new ones.

Cluster transition refers to the process (and the activities) by which the transfer of leadership and accountabilities is planned and implemented, leading to de-activation. A plan is required to map phases of the transition, set transition or de-activation benchmarks for each phase, and schedule activities to meet them.

Four principles should guide and inform the transition and de-activation process for the FSC:

  1. The formal process should be initiated and led by the HC (or RC/HC), in consultation with the HCTwherever possible in close collaboration with national authorities and supported by OCHA. CLAs, cluster partners and national counterparts should be involved in drafting and agreeing the review and its recommendations and preparing transition or de-activation plans.
  2. The process should be based on assessment of national capacities, including the presence, structure, and resources of relevant coordination mechanisms. For FSC, functions may be transferred to different national structures such as Ministry of Food and Agriculture, Ministry of Social Welfare, and Ministry of Disaster Relief etc. at different times as part of the transition plan for phasing out.  
  3. The process should take account of the context, including the scale of continuing or remaining humanitarian needs, and the ability of successor mechanisms to respond in line with humanitarian principles. Deactivation is usually faster in a sudden onset emergency when compared to a protracted emergency. The probability of recurring or new disasters should also be taken into account. 
  4. The process should be guided by early recovery and resilience-building objectives. Integrating early recovery objectives in transition and de-activation planning early on can help ensure that humanitarian actors consider the sustainability of their response, take steps to build national and local capacity, emphasise preparedness, and support long-term recovery, development and peace objectives. 

The official process requires that the HC (or RC/HC) issues a letter to the ERC/EDG on the deactivation of the clusters. This should then be approved by the EDG

Deactivation of a cluster does not mean that humanitarian funding is no longer required. Funding will be required to conduct transitional activities, including capacity-building, and to enable national and other authorities to coordinate residual or continuing humanitarian needs or strengthen preparedness. Lack of funding is not a reason to deactivate a cluster.

There is limited practical guidance on when and how clusters should evolve into longer-term coordination. Ultimately, the evolution of the cluster coordination structure will depend on the long-term vision for coordination in the particular country and how the linkage between humanitarian and development issues is implemented. Ideally, a transition strategy will be developed and integrated into the FSC response strategy, including specific activities and benchmarks to indicate what needs to be done, and when, in order to prepare for and deliver the transition. 

What is important to know as a Coordinator:  FSC transition and deactivation processes are country and context specific. However, experience has shown that the following overarching points are important for the FSC Coordinator to consider during the transition process:

  • Leadership: Leadership and inter-agency support are essential since transition requires preparation and resources to sustain the coordination function beyond the cluster deactivation. The Coordinator should work closely with the CLAs and coordinate with the ICCG. Advocacy and resource mobilisation remain important during this period.
  • Localizing the response: Transition goes hand in hand with increasing the capacity of local actors for which sufficient resources and diverse partnerships are key. The need to transition should inform the FSC’s ‘capacity strengthening plan’ from the outset. See 3.7.  

Practical steps for transition and deactivation of a Food Security Cluster: 

When preparing transition and deactivation plans, a FSC Coordinator should work to: 

  • Map the capacity:
    • Map preparedness arrangements, and response and coordination needs (based on the six cluster functions).
    • Identify and assess the capacity of government and other coordination and response mechanisms that can assume leadership and accountability for the cluster’s functions (responsibilities and accountabilities may pass to a range of officials or departments and can be transferred at the different points in time). 
    • Transferring FSC functions: Make plans for this at the outset. The aim is to ensure that relevant experience, knowledge, skills and capacities, as well as tools and materials resulting from the work of the cluster, is transferred to the government or the new coordination mechanism. Try to make these arrangements in written for the reference in future. 
  • Timeline:
    • Deactivation is a consultative process that requires time, planning and resources. The identification of the most appropriate mechanism for coordination after the cluster deactivation, and appropriate preparatory activities and benchmarks should be included in the FSC’s work plan. 
    • Set a realistic time frame for transition and deactivation processes, to allow for FSC partner consultation in developing a plan and subsequently implementing transition activities prior to deactivation.
    • In the ‘capacity strengthening plan/strategy’, determine what must be done over what period to build capacity, during the transition or to enable deactivation. 
  • Accountability: It is recommended to define how CLAs and national counterparts are accountable for cluster functions during transition and deactivation.
  • Preparedness: Decide how preparedness will be maintained or strengthened after deactivation and define any continued role for the CLAs.

Examples of FSC Transition or Deactivation Plans: See the Food Security and Livelihoods Cluster (FSLC) Transition plan 2021 – 2023 (Ukraine FSLC, 2021). For support, contact the GST.

Guidance: See the Reference Module for Cluster Coordination at Country Level (IASC, 2015), pp. 37-41 for more information on cluster transition and deactivation. 

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