OFDA Assessment Teams typically collect two types of information:
(1) what has happened as a result of the disaster, and (2) what is needed to save lives, alleviate suffering, and mitigate negative economic impacts. The type of information that is usually first available to an Assessment Team concerns the effects of the disaster. The process of collecting this information is referred to as a situation or disaster assessment. It identifies the magnitude and extent of the disaster and its effects on local populations. The second major type of information-gathering is a needs assessment, which defines the level and type of assistance required for the affected population. The gathering of information for the situation assessment and needs assessment can be done concurrently. The information collected in the initial assessment(s) is the basis for determining the type and amount of relief needed during the immediate response phase of the disaster. It may also identify the need to continue monitoring and reassessing the unfolding disaster situation.
A third type of assessment is sometimes undertaken when proposing to fund relief activities. USAID policy requires the assessment of possible negative impacts on the environment of any major expenditure of funds. OFDA-funded assistance is exempted from a formal environmental impact review if the assistance is needed immediately to save lives or livelihoods. Annex H, "Principles of Context-Specific Programming" in OFDA’s Guidelines for Proposals and Reporting, however, does ask for a discussion of the environmental impacts of proposed assistance when possible.
This assessment gathers information on the magnitude of the disaster and the extent of its impact on the population and the physical infrastructure, as well as the environment. The following areas should be assessed and reported:
The initial needs assessment identifies resources and services for immediate emergency measures to save and sustain the lives and livelihoods of the affected population. Conduct this assessment at the site of a disaster or at the location(s) of displaced population(s). A rapid response based on this information should help lower excessive death rates and stabilize the nutritional, health, and living conditions among the population at risk. A rapid response to urgent needs must never be delayed because a comprehensive assessment has not yet been completed.
Areas assessed and reported on, which are closely linked to the information gathered in the above situation assessment, include:
The need to consider environmental issues during disaster operations rests on four considerations:
In other words, failing to consider the natural environment and the management of natural resources during the planning and execution of relief operations can lead to unanticipated problems and reduce the effectiveness of the overall assistance effort.
To help assess disaster-environment linkages, various organizations have developed methods and tools for rapid environmental assessments. These tools have been designed for rapid implementation either alone or as part of another assessment. They include relief organization and community inputs, making for a well-rounded assessment.
The results of rapid environmental assessments can be used to derive a prioritized list of salient environmental issues. These can be used to revise project proposals or ongoing projects or as input into relief and recovery planning.
Rapid environmental assessments can be used:
Environmental assessments can be applied to any response activity, but are probably more cost effective for projects of sub-activities exceeding $50,000. Environmental assessments are best undertaken using a team approach—ideally a coalition of relief organizations with community input—and looking at the overall disaster situation. However, they can be conducted by one person working alone, if necessary.