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Introduction to Assessments
Every good aid worker knows that you must base your work on proper assessment. If you don't, you risk wasting your resources; missing the most needy people; or even doing harm.
In long-term development contexts, assessments can take a long time since they must try to understand as fully as possible the realities of a complex situation. By contrast, in acute emergencies, a reasonably good assessment can be done very quickly. It must then be revised as soon as possible, and then regularly revised thereafter to make sure it remains accurate and up-to-date.
Assessments should be properly recorded. Future managers, evaluators and auditors will need to understand what the situation was when the assessment was done, and why the programme was designed as it was.
Sphere Standards, at www.sphereproject.org, give an excellent generic outline of what an assessment should be. Common Standard 2 (p.29 of the Sphere Handbook) is on Initial Assessment. It states that "Assessments provide an understanding of the disaster situation and a clear analysis of threats to life, dignity, health and livelihoods to determine, in consultation with the relevant authorities, whether an external response is required and, if so, the nature of the response." It then gives a helpful set of key indicators:
Assessment checklists for individual sectors can be found in the appendices at the end of each technical chapter.
Many different assessment guidelines are available, some general, and some specific to a technical discipline. Some of the best known are in the following publications:
UNHCR Handbook for Emergencies, available in many languages at www.the-ecentre.net/resources/e_library. Printed copies can be provided to NGOs and local authorities upon request. When requesting copies the name of the recipient organisation and the intended use of the Handbooks should be specified. Requests should be made directly to UNHCR stating the number and language required. Email address: HQEM00@unhcr.ch Fax: 0041 22 739 7301. The sum of US$ 15 is charged per copy.
Sphere Standards, as mentioned above.
Where to Find Other Agencies' Assessments
It makes little sense for every aid agency to do a full assessment if they can make use of good assessments already done by other agencies.
Aid agencies often share their assessments, particularly in the local coordination meetings. Many of them also post their assessments on ReliefWeb (www.reliefweb.int). If your agency has carried out an assessment, make sure that it is also posted on ReliefWeb so that others can benefit from it. Send documents to email@example.com and maps to firstname.lastname@example.org. State the date of publication, source information, contact information and any special instruction you may have, such as release embargo.
The host government in many cases will be the richest source of assessment information. Unless there is a good reason not to, they should receive a copy of each assessment. Ideally, they should be involved in the assessment process, unless there is a good reason why this would not be in the interests of local people.
Finally, the files of your own aid agency often contain documents that have been forgotten about, and they can include useful assessments. If you do not know where to look in the filing system, contact your predecessor, or another key staff member who may have left the office a year or two ago. They may well be aware of important documents whose significance was not communicated effectively to you when you started your job.
ODI Good Practice Review 5: Counting Beneficiary Populations
"Counting and Identification of Beneficiary Populations in Emergencies: registration and its alternatives" is the title of the Overseas Development Institute Good Practice Review, No 7. It is available at www.odihpn.org (click on publications, then select good practice reviews from the drop-down menu).
Engineering in Emergencies: A Practical Guide for Relief Workers
This book, by Bobby Lambert and Jan Davis, includes excellent, practical information regarding assessing needs in a disaster or crisis situation. The book is not limited to engineering needs. It is available for order from your favorite bookstore, including amazon.com.