Humanitarian Health Action

Proceedings from the WHO Conference on the Health Aspects of the Tsunami Disaster in Asia

Phuket, Thailand, 4-6 May 2005

Information for post-event disaster needs assessments and programming

13. The tsunami experience demonstrated that uncoordinated, incomplete, inaccurate, competing and overlapping assessments were undertaken by different agencies and organizations. These not only wasted time and resources but also raised ethical concerns in relation to traumatized populations being subjected to repeated questioning by different entities.

14. Accurate, reliable and appropriate information is fundamental to the planning, organization, and management of effective crisis responses. As soon as is feasible, information on damage, needs and capacities is needed for decision-making and action. Further assessments are needed at various stages in the relief, recovery and reconstruction phases to monitor and evaluate ongoing interventions, identify evolving or unexpected needs, and inform the planning of each phase. Data collected, collated, and analysed during a crisis is also valuable in planning future disaster risk reduction interventions.

15. Participants stressed the crucial role of baseline information in assessing the impact of humanitarian aid and identifying new needs as the situation evolves in tsunami-affected communities. They noted that many assessments had been undertaken, yet they were still not able to access all the baseline data they needed in the aftermath of the disaster. Good data were available from some communities in which public health surveillance systems had been well developed before the disaster. Information from these data enabled a more rapid and effective response, and shortened the relief phase.

16. However, if assessments are to be undertaken promptly, appropriate techniques should be defined and tested in advance. Pre-event data should be located, and assessment designs should use universally-available Geographical Information System coordinates and standardized sampling and data collection modules. Assessments should yield population-based health information identifying groups of people with needs through disaggregation of results by age, sex and location. In addition, consideration should be given to combining food and livelihood security assessments with nutrition, morbidity and mortality surveys.

17. A single, consolidated post-disaster assessment mechanism should be applied to specific populations. This should include both the initial assessment and appropriate ongoing surveillance of both health needs and access to essential services. To establish this mechanism, international agencies must continue the vital work of agreeing how best to support local and national authorities to undertake post-event health needs assessments and surveillance. They need to invest in developing the capacity of national groups to do this work. Preparedness includes assigning responsibilities for collecting, maintaining and disseminating the baseline data needed in emergencies, such as data on community level health needs and services, and the social situation of populations. Donor funding policies should also encourage the conduct of timely, and good quality needs assessments, and donor funding practices should be guided by the results. WHO is working with NGOs, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, UN agencies, and the IOM to develop standard health assessment tools.