Project II - Needs assessments in disasters

Needs assessment (NA) is the systematic rapid collection of information that characterizes the magnitude of the crises, the population groups most in need, and the priority short term actions to take

To plan relief following a disaster there is need for NA information on:  1. The context in which the disaster struck, what was the socioeconomic situation before the disaster? What resources are available and what was the pre-disaster situation for the population?  2. The type and intensity of the disaster and its location and the number of people affected. Based on this information an ititial “Remote Magnitude Assumption” (RMA) of type and magnitude of upcoming needs can be carried out within in a few hours to help plan relief. In the first few days a “quick and dirty” assessment on ground is needed to provide more detailed information.

Our previous research findings highlight the lack of a “system” among disaster response agencies to make use of needs assessment data. Relief is sent based on “experience” and “feeling” rather than on objective NA data. A long list of shortcomings in regards to relief agencies and NA
may be produced, but nevertheless NA remains the backbone of disasters response. Better needs assessments have long been a priority, and while significant improvements have been achieved, while much work remains. It should be highlighted that NA in addition to provide essential data for disaster relief, also serve as an important role in evaluations. Without NA that clearly defines a baseline of what the situation was like at the start of relief activities, it is impossible to define impact or even outcome of relief activities. Thus, NA are closely linked to evaluations and thus should be emphasised and better clarified.

While RMA is a useful tool to estimate needs and risks following a sudden onset disaster it is less clear how to do the same in slow onset and complex disasters. In an effort to support needs-based and transparent funding and the subsequent response to disasters, we have assessed, using readily available indicators, to what extent it is possible to distinguish levels of disaster severity between countries affected by complex emergencies (CE). Our results show that it is possible to objectively
measure severity and that severity can be compared between CE-affected countries and thereby define level of need.

Our focus has changed towards developing methods and approaches of estimating needs and risk following disasters, rather than how to collect the data on ground. This means relying mainly on secondary data and making sense of reports and possibly surveys from the field. However we maintain capacity to do “on ground assessments” and collaborate with the ACAPs project to test new approaches for how and what type of data to collect, in addition to how to do analysis and make use of such data.

Objectives 2015

  1. To explore and test to what extent our tool for disaster severity scoring of complex emergencies is valid in predicting outcomes following earthquakes and other SODs
  2. To assess the value of additional vulnerability and severity indicators in predicting and estimating disaster outcomes in earthquakes and other SODs
  3. To update knowledge and experience on how to optimally conduct needs assessment in upcoming disasters