Project I - Needs assessments in disasters | Centre for Research on Health Care in Disasters

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

Relief activities following a disaster

To plan relief activities following a disaster the following NA information is needed:

  1. The context in which the disaster struck: What was the socioeconomic situation before the disaster? What resources are available and how was the pre-disaster situation for the population?
  2. The type and intensity of the disaster, its location and the number of people affected. Based on this information an initial “Remote Magnitude Assumption” (RMA) of type and magnitude of upcoming needs can be carried out within 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.

Previous research findings

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, 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. 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 need-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. We have created and tested a model to estimate and compare the severity of disasters, and our work now focuses on predicting the severity of disasters using the model of indicators we developed earlier.


  1. To map existing models of severity assessment models used in complex disasters and earthquakes.
  2. To evaluate the extent to which the mapped severity models can estimate the number of people affected and killed by earthquakes and floods.
  3. Based on objectives 1 and 2, to define a model for estimating the severity and level of needs in different types of disasters.