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Understanding the needs of disaster-affected people

Understanding the needs of disaster-affected people is key to an effective response.

We may make assumptions about the impacts of a disaster on people, and envisage that needs are predictable (water, food, medical supplies, shelter, etc). However, it’s been shown that assumptions about how to best meet those needs can lead to ineffective aid and, in some cases, damaging interventions.

In the step ‘Launching a response’, you were asked to read situation reports from a number of key agencies. The demand for information is high and given the specific remit of many agencies, they often require specific information. As you might imagine, evaluation of previous disaster responses has identified that duplication of information collection has occurred.

In recognition of the dynamic nature of large-scale disasters, good practice recommends that we take a phased approach to assessing the impacts and needs of those affected and adjust objectives over the initial weeks. IASC outlines an approach to be used for large-scale disasters demanding a full international response from the humanitarian community.

An initial rapid needs assessment and analysis allows the humanitarian team to develop a plan for response. It focuses on producing a situational analysis during the first few days of the onset of a disaster. A second, more detailed report should be provided within two weeks of the onset of the disaster.

You can read the flood response plans developed from the multi-agency needs assessments from August 2010 and the revised version from September.

Needs assessment and planning are the first two steps in the humanitarian program cycle. The remaining steps are resource mobilisation, implementation and monitoring, operational peer review and evaluation.

The Humanitarian Program Cycle consists of five stages: 1. Needs assessment and analysis; 2. Strategic planning; 3. Resource mobilisation; 4. Implementation and monitoring; 5. Operational peer review and evaluation. Coordination and information management is part of all five phases, as is preparedness. Adapted from OCHA (2020)

Your task

Based on what you’ve learned so far about the impacts of the floods over the first few days, what would the main challenges be for agencies undertaking a rapid needs assessment? What approaches could be taken to gather more detailed information over the next week or so?
Post your ideas in the comments area and discuss with your fellow learners. Remember that the floods move through the country, and rain storms and flood surges come and go over a period of weeks.


OCHA (2020) Humanitarian Programme Cycle [online] available from [28 April 2020]

© Coventry University. CC BY-NC 4.0
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Humanitarian Action, Response and Relief

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