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Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Relief

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Rapid Needs Assessment

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 and decisive.

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 necessary help.

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:
    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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 reports.
  • 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. 


Department of Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Relief

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Regional Office of the World Health Organization
525 Twenty-third Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20037, United States of America
Tel: +1 (202) 974-3000  Fax: +1 (202) 974-3663