Immediately following a disaster, the needs of the population must be assessed as part of the comprehensive approach that the responsible national authorities employ to the overall situation.
The comprehensive approach must be headed up by a single national
agency. Preferably, the agency should be in place before an event
occurs and have trained, experienced staff and appropriate, tested
instruments for its work during an emergency.
How soon immediate needs are established will determine the response
time; and the quality of the assessment will determine the
effectiveness of the actions. Here, being efficient means being timely
The experience in most countries has been that assessments of this
type are not conducted or, at least, not adequately. This leads to
disorder in addressing the situation, which results in unsatisfied
victims and donors and a worsening of the impact of the event.
Often both domestic and foreign donations that are not needed are
allowed in. Also, the response the communities are awaiting and need
early on is delayed. The situation often becomes so complicated that
even several hours after the event, the population has not received the
Basic Principles for an Effective Assessment
- The assessment must be conducted immediately after the event, in an organized and coordinated fashion.
- The information must cover three main areas:
- The quality of life of the victims: determine the geographic
region affected; its population; access areas; modes of transportation;
communications systems; availability of basic services (water,
electricity, communications, sanitation facilities, housing, shelters);
and availability of food.
- The scope of the damage: determine the number of deaths; the
number of persons injured, the number who have disappeared, the number
displaced, and their location; the status and capacity of health
facilities; urgent needs; and human and material resources in the area.
- The secondary health hazards for the population: identify potential threats to the population’s health.
The need for this information is not as immediate as for the two previous points.
- Keep the entire population informed of changes in the situation as they occur.
- Keep the international community and potential donors informed of different situations that arise.
- Adequately organize the receipt of donations and the procurement of the necessary resources.
What to do
- In the first few days, information must be collected while disaster relief is being provided.
- Use correct, easy-to-access information summarized, preferably, in tables, figures, and maps.
- When seeking donations, be very specific about the resources needed for optimal management of the situation.
- The following sources can be used to compile information:
observation (on the ground or by air) if resources for this are
available; the community; relief workers; the press, etc. and existing
- Maintain a flexible information system for the national and international community.
- Give the data compiled to relief agencies and the personnel responsible for collecting donations.
What not to do
- Promote or support requests for international donations of supplies
not on the list of needed items prepared by the respective team.
- Yield to the temptation to issue reports that exaggerate the scope of the damage and thus, real needs.
- Conceal, manipulate, or change the data collected.
Dana Van Alphen
Phone: (202) 974-3521