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:
- 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
- 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
- The secondary health hazards for the population: identify
potential threats to the populationís health.
The need for this information is not as immediate as for the two
What to do
- Keep the entire population informed of changes in the situation as
- 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.
- 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
What not to do
- Give the data compiled to relief agencies and the personnel responsible
for collecting donations.
- 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.