Select your language

Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response

Core Standard 3: Assessment

The priority needs of the disaster-affected population are identified through a systematic assessment of the context, risks to life with dignity and the capacity of the affected people and relevant authorities to respond.


Key actions (to be read in conjunction with the guidance notes)


Key indicators (to be read in conjunction with the guidance notes)


Guidance notes

  1. Pre-disaster information: A collaborative pooling of existing information is invaluable for initial and rapid assessments. A considerable amount of information is almost always available about the context (e.g. political, social, economic, security, conflict and natural environment) and the people (such as their sex, age, health, culture, spirituality and education). Sources of this information include the relevant state ministries (e.g. health and census data), academic or research institutions, community-based organisations and local and international humanitarian agencies present before the disaster. Disaster preparedness and early warning initiatives, new developments in shared web-based mapping, crowd-sourcing and mobile phone platforms (such as Ushahidi) have also generated databases of relevant information.
  2. Initial assessments, typically carried out in the first hours following a disaster, may be based almost entirely on second-hand information and pre-existing data. They are essential to inform immediate relief needs and should be carried out and shared immediately.
  3. Phased assessments: Assessment is a process, not a single event. Initial and rapid assessments provide the basis for subsequent in-depth assessments that deepen (but do not repeat) earlier assessment findings. Care should be taken as repeated assessments of sensitive protection concerns such as gender-based violence can be more harmful than beneficial to communities and individuals.
  4. Data disaggregation: Detailed disaggregation is rarely possible initially but is of critical importance to identify the different needs and rights of children and adults of all ages. At the earliest opportunity, further disaggregate by sex and age for children 0–5 male/female, 6–12 male/female and 13–17 male/female, and then in 10-year age brackets, e.g. 50–59, male/female; 60–69, male/female; 70–79, male/female; 80+, male/female. Unlike the physiologically-related age groupings in the health chapter, these groupings address age-related differences linked to a range of rights, social and cultural issues.
  5. Representative assessments: Needs-based assessments cover all disaster-affected populations. Special efforts are needed to assess people in hard-to-reach locations, e.g. people who are not in camps, are in less accessible geographical areas or in host families. The same applies for people less easily accessed but often at risk, such as persons with disabilities, older people, housebound individuals, children and youths, who may be targeted as child soldiers or subjected to gender-based violence. Sources of primary information include direct observation, focus group discussions, surveys and discussions with as wide a range of people and groups as possible (e.g. local authorities, male and female community leaders, older men and women, health staff, teachers and other educational personnel, traders and other humanitarian agencies). Speaking openly may be difficult or dangerous for some people. Talk with children separately as they are unlikely to speak in front of adults and doing so may put the children at risk. In most cases, women and girls should be consulted in separate spaces. Aid workers engaged in the collection of systematic information from people who have been abused or violated should have the necessary skills and systems to do so safely and appropriately. In conflict areas, information could be misused and place people at further risk or compromise an agency’s ability to operate. Only with an individual’s consent may information about them be shared with other humanitarian agencies or relevant organisations (see Protection Principle 1). It will not be possible to immediately assess all those affected: excluded areas or groups should be clearly noted in the assessment report and returned to at the earliest opportunity.
  6. Assessing vulnerability: The risks faced by people following a disaster will vary for different groups and individuals. Some people may be vulnerable due to individual factors such as their age (particularly the very young and the very old) and illness (especially people living with HIV and AIDS). But individual factors alone do not automatically increase risk. Assess the social and contextual factors that contribute to vulnerability, such as discrimination and marginalisation (e.g. low status and power of women and girls); social isolation; environmental degradation; climate variability; poverty; lack of land tenure; poor governance; ethnicity; class or caste; and religious or political affiliations. Subsequent in-depth assessments should identify potential future hazards, such as changing risk patterns due to environmental degradation (e.g. soil erosion or deforestation) and climate change and geology (e.g. cyclones, floods, droughts, landslides and sea-level rise).
  7. Data-gathering and checklists: Assessment information including population movements and numbers should be cross-checked, validated and referenced to as many sources as possible. If multisectoral assessments are not initially possible, pay extra attention to linkages with other individual sector, protection and cross-cutting assessments. Data sources and levels of disaggregation should be noted and mortality and morbidity of children under 5 years old documented from the outset. Many assessment checklists are available, based on agreed humanitarian standards (see the checklists in the appendices of some technical chapters). Checklists enhance the coherence and accessibility of data to other agencies, ensure that all key areas have been examined and reduce organisational or individual bias. A common inter-agency assessment format may have been developed prior to a disaster or agreed during the response. In all cases, assessments should clarify the objectives and methodology to be used and generate impartial information about the impact of the crisis on those affected. A mix of quantitative and qualitative methods appropriate to the context should be used. Assessment teams should, as far as possible, be composed of a mix of women and men, generalists and specialists, including those with skills in collecting gender-sensitive data and communicating with children. Teams should include people familiar with the language(s) and location and able to communicate with people in culturally acceptable ways.
  8. Assessing capacities: Communities have capacities for coping and recovery (see Core Standard 1). Many coping mechanisms are sustainable and helpful, while others may be negative, with potentially long-term harmful consequences, such as the sale of assets or heavy alcohol consumption. Assessments should identify the positive strategies that increase resilience as well as the reasons for negative strategies.
  9. Assessing security: An assessment of the safety and security of disaster-affected and host populations should be carried out in all initial and subsequent assessments, identifying threats of violence and any forms of coercion and denial of subsistence or basic human rights (see Protection Principle 3).
  10. Sharing assessments: Assessment reports provide invaluable information to other humanitarian agencies, create baseline data and increase the transparency of response decisions. Regardless of variations in individual agency design, assessment reports should be clear and concise, enable users to identify priorities for action and describe their methodology to demonstrate the reliability of data and enable a comparative analysis if required.