arrow_backEmergency WASH

A.1 Key Concepts and Good Practice


Key Concepts

  • Hygiene promotion (HP) assessments aim to understand the WASH vulnerabilities and capacities of the affected population (often including the host community) and to identify how best to prioritise and respond to their diverse (chapter  E ) and changing needs. 

  • An emergency HP assessment process usually entails: (1) Planning the assessment, (2) Immediate rapid assessment, (3) In-depth assessments or formative assessment as time allows, (4) Ongoing discussions with and feedback from the community and other stakeholders A.3.

  • The process, resources, tools and teams should, ideally, have been identified and developed during the preparedness phase and included the collection and analysis of pre-crisis information (e.g. pre-crisis market analysis or epidemiological data), to make the assessment during an emergency easier.

  • An assessment is preferably undertaken before the implementation of the programme, but in a fast onset emergency, immediate actions may need to be taken based only on a rapid assessment and be refined over time. 

  • Assessment is not a one-off activity. In an emergency data can quickly become out of date as the situation may be rapidly evolving: ongoing assessment and analysis will be necessary. 

  • Assessment data must be analysed and then used to inform programme planning (data not intended to be used should not be collected).

  • The scale of the assessment will depend on the phase of the emergency and the resources available. In the acute phase, concentrate on collecting and analysing information that is ‘essential to know’ for programme planning.

  • Coordination and collaboration with all stakeholders P.9 are vital to minimise resource wastage, use existing information and knowledge efficiently and effectively, inform the response and minimise community assessment fatigue.

  • Assessment, analysis and planning must consider both the needs and the context, priority risks and determinants of hygiene behaviour (A.2 and chapter  B ) as well as the existing capacities of national and local authorities and affected populations (A.6).

  • A significant amount of information can be gathered from secondary data sources such as existing assessments, surveys and reports; these should be rapidly reviewed. However, assessments cannot be based only on secondary data: collecting some 'primary data' and engaging the affected population is non-negotiable, even in an emergency.

  • An HP assessment should be conducted systematically and be recorded in a way that allows others to understand how decisions about the programme were reached. 

  • Participatory assessments encourage community members to assess and analyse their own situation and can be powerful tools to identify and stimulate community-defined actions.

  • Uncoordinated, lengthy and repeated assessments can contribute to frustration and an erosion of trust with communities. It is important to recognise that in an emergency people will often be traumatised and may find an assessment intrusive. 

  • Analysis and planning frameworks, such as a Logframe and Problem Tree T.25, can aid the process of defining what the programme hopes to achieve and how.


Good Practice

  • Coordinate, plan and share the assessment and analysis with others P.9 to avoid duplication. Decide who does what, where and when. Assessment working groups with clear roles and responsibilities are useful.

  • Pay attention to the safety of both staff and communities and train and prepare the assessment team. Ensure that they only ask relevant questions and know how to refer onwards any issues of concern relating to protection, mental health or security.

  • Review the available secondary data and decide on its relevance and applicability to the specific context. Then identify the key additional data that needs to be collected. In the acute phase especially, focus on what is essential rather than nice or useful to know (see figure below). It can be helpful to identify the indicators you want to assess e.g. the number of children under five using potties – and then design the questions you would need to ask to capture this indicator. Identify a sampling strategy A.4 and draw up a plan of action (A.3 and A.9). 

    Prioritising Information

  • Involve both primary (affected communities) and secondary (local and national government departments) stakeholders. This could include invitations to members of the affected community or the local WASH department to join the assessment team. Identify the capacity and role of local HP actors in, e.g. health and social services and local community networks/committees/organisations, as well as the volunteers.

  • Identify different community groups (e.g. men, women, adolescents, elders, persons with disabilities) and establish who is marginalised or particularly vulnerable. Recognise that the affected community members are ‘experts’ in their situation and have knowledge to share. 

  • Ensure that assessment processes are inclusive and accessible, including for people who have difficulty leaving their homes or communicating.

  • Establish gender-balanced teams (including interpreters) where possible and collect information that is disaggregated by age, sex and disability, as a minimum.

  • Remember the importance of communicating with people in their own language and ensure that interpreters are well briefed before commencing the assessment. 

  • Train assessment teams (including basic psychological first aid) and provide support and debriefing. Interpreters may be needed for the assessment; Checklists (e.g. T.2) will need to be carefully translated. Ideally, training would take place as a preparedness measure. 

  • Decide on the tools that will be used in the assessment (chapter  T ). Focus Group Discussions T.14, Observation T.28 and Key Informant Interviews T.23 are often used in the first phase of an emergency to collect primary WASH data. However, numerous tools can be used such as picture sets and mapping activities T.7.

  • Assess the appropriateness of questionnaire surveys (e.g. T.24); they require more time and planning and may not be useful in the acute phase of an emergency response unless dedicated resources are available. 

  • Carry out a market analysis P.8 using both qualitative and quantitative methods to identify and ensure Access to Hygiene Items P.6

  • Use a combination of methods that are both quantitative (e.g. how many functioning toilets are in operation) and qualitative (e.g. how do women feel about going to the toilet at night?). Triangulation of information using different methods and sources and cross-checking findings can minimise the bias from using a single method and ensure that the data is more reliable. 

  • Consider using Assessment Checklists T.2 to remind data collectors of the breadth of the investigation. These checklists should be used as aide memoirs (containing only key words and possibly short phrases) rather than ‘questionnaires’ that often provide only closed questions and answers (e.g. Yes or No). It is also important to collect public health data from clinics and health centres T.17 to understand local public health risks.

  • Ensure that the assessment data is analysed. Different methods can be used to analyse qualitative and quantitative data. Check that you have staff on the ground able to perform the types of analysis needed. Start analysing raw data during the assessment to check for gaps and inconsistencies and problems with the methods.

  • Use planning frameworks with clearly defined aims, objectives, activities and timeframes to make the rationale behind any HP intervention transparent T.25. The analysis and sharing of the data are also vital steps in the assessment process and enable more effective response planning. 

  • Avoid over-assessing by either collecting too much information that will not be analysed and used or by collecting the same information in different sectoral assessments, leading to frustration in the affected community and eroding trust. There is little point in collecting data without analysing it and using it to inform programme planning. 



To ensure that the WASH response is integrated, appropriate and relevant to a diverse population and to provide a basis for planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation.


General and technical standards in relation to carrying out assessments (including a WASH checklist)

Sphere Association (2018): The Sphere Handbook: Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response 4th Edition

Short online training introduction to needs assessments in emergencies

Kaya Humanitarian Leadership Academy (undated): Introduction to Needs Assessment in Emergencies

Methods for carrying out needs assessments with affected communities

Groupe URD (2009): Participation Handbook for Humanitarian Field Workers