Published on Sustainable Cities

Five ways to do better post-disaster assessments

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2017 damage and loss assessment following landslides and floods in Sierra Leone. Photo: World Bank
2017 damage and loss assessment following landslides and floods in Sierra Leone. (Photo: World Bank)

Post-disaster assessments changed my life by starting my career in disaster risk management. Three months after arriving in Indonesia as the World Bank’s environment coordinator, the Indian Ocean tsunami and related earthquakes struck Aceh and Nias at the end of 2004. I was asked to pull together the economic evaluation of the disaster’s environmental impact as part of what was then known as a damage-and-loss assessment. Subsequently, the World Bank, United Nations and European Union agreed on a joint approach to crisis response in 2008, including a common methodology for post-disaster needs assessment (PDNA).

Now that we have a decade of experience with this approach, what have we learned and how can we do a better job in the future?

A wealth of experience

At the most basic level, the purpose of a post-disaster needs assessment is to assess effects and impacts to then determine priority recovery needs. The exercise is government-led with technical and financial support from international partners, and detailed guidelines outline how the methodology is to be conducted. Since 2008, the World Bank and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) have worked with the UN, EU and other partners to help governments prepare nearly 70 PDNAs in over 40 countries in all regions.

What have we learned from this experience?

A recent comprehensive review of 14 PDNAs, which I co-led with peers from the UN Development Program and the European Commission, identifies the value of the PDNA process as a tool to support national governments in developing practical and useful post-disaster recovery plans. According to the review, PDNAs have supported governments in expanding their capabilities and practices for planning and implementing recovery strategies, created a convening mechanism to exchange data and analysis within the government and between governments and their international partners, and also helped governments assert their leadership in the recovery. The review also found that the PDNA process has helped drive thinking among governments and the wider international community beyond physical reconstruction toward comprehensive and resilient recovery and development practices.

2017 damage and loss assessment following landslides and floods in Sierra Leone. Photo: World Bank

However, as the review pointed out, there have also been challenges in implementing the PDNA process. Critically, the PDNA process is suited for some disasters but alternative assessment procedures may be more appropriate for smaller countries, smaller disasters or atypical recovery requirements. Furthermore, there has also been little dialogue with governments to identify special country needs, and a lack of clarity about accountability to affected populations, including socially marginalized groups or people with special needs.

Doing better

We can overcome these challenges and better help affected countries get on the road to recovery more quickly by:

  1. Using improved techniques – Access to data and analytical methods have evolved since 2008. We now have more information and better models, such as the Global Rapid Post-Disaster Damage Estimation (GRADE) that can deliver assessments more quickly and cheaply than PDNAs.

  2. Responding to country needs – Different governments may have different needs for information on different time scales. Sometimes, a rapid assessment is needed to generate specific and immediate results. Other times, a comprehensive PDNA is required for detailed planning purposes. Or, a sequenced combination of both approaches may be called for.

  3. Linking with recovery framework – A post-disaster assessment should be consistently followed by a disaster recovery framework that sets out the institutional arrangements, policies, financing mechanisms, and opportunities for accelerated implementation of a reconstruction program.

  4. Reducing transaction costs and increasing speed – This can be done by ensuring that coordination mechanisms at the international and local levels are working properly, capacity for assessment has been built, efficient techniques are used, and resources can be quickly mobilized.

  5. Being inclusive – This can be pursued through greater community and civil society engagement in the assessment exercise, more consistent stakeholder consultation, specific analysis of the damages, losses and needs of vulnerable groups, and greater private sector participation.

We now have the opportunity to advocate for these changes by revising the World Banks’s ten year-old agreement with the UN and EU which sets out how we respond to crises, including natural disasters. The revision process formally began at the UN General Assembly last month and will be concluded next month. Please join us in this effort and let us know if we are on the right track by leaving a comment below.

Interested in more lessons learned from post-disaster needs assessments? Check out the recent report, “Post-Disaster Needs Assessment: Lessons from a Decade of Experience”, jointly produced by the World Bank, GFDRR, the European Commission and the UN Development Program.



Joe Leitmann

Lead Disaster Risk Management Specialist, World Bank / GFDRR

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