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Tools and guides

Needs assessments in emergencies

For identifying appropriate response options in an emergency and guiding programme design

2020 Available in English, French, Portuguese and Spanish

Thulimaya's house was severely damaged by the earthquake that struck Nepal on 25 April 2015, and she is featured in Tearfund's needs assessments tools. Photo: Esther Trewinnard/Tearfund

Thulimaya's house was severely damaged by the earthquake that struck Nepal on 25 April 2015. She is featured in Tearfund's needs assessment tools. Photo: Esther Trewinnard/Tearfund

These documents help humanitarian organisations to decide the best options for their emergency response, both initially and on an ongoing basis.

They can be used multiple times, at varying depths and for different areas of focus, to ensure a relevant response as emergency situations change.

The short guide and good practice guide are accompanied by three specific tools: a direct observational tool, five discussion questions and the initial rapid needs assessment tool.

The role of assessment in an emergency is a critical step and ongoing process in determining humanitarian needs and following humanitarian principles. Assessments help to identify the most appropriate options for responding to an emergency and are vital in guiding programme design. 

Through assessments, humanitarian organisations gain accurate data about the needs and operating context, and engage with local communities and other humanitarian actors in the affected area. Where possible, you should always consider conducting a field assessment in partnership with others, or participate in coordinated assessment eg in conjunction with UNOCHA. 

The purpose of this guide is: 

  • To provide a short overview of how to conduct a needs assessment in emergencies
  • To explain how to use Tearfund’s needs assessment tools. 

Why do we do assessments? 

  • To know more detail about the situation
  • To decide what needs to be done
  • To determine who has the capacity to respond appropriately
  • To determine what we should and should not do

Needs assessments should be the basis for:

  • Decision-making
  • Planning an appropriate response (programme/project)
  • Mobilising resources (staff, funds, media coverage)
  • Monitoring and evaluation

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