4. What to do: context analysis


To decide if a shelter intervention is necessary and what it should be, CARE should assess:

  • The number of people made homeless by the disaster. The vulnerability of the affected population.
  • Any shelter activities that the affected communities have begun themselves. This gives an indication of resources and capacity.
  • The organisational structure (cluster) coordinating the shelter response – national government, UNHCR (conflict), IFRC (natural disasters) or another organisation. The cluster will be a key source of further information, overall strategy and standards.
  • Other organisations planning a shelter response including the government. CARE should ensure coordination at the earliest opportunity.
  • The availability of shelter materials and construction labour.
  • Maps of the affected area. These will be used to identify where CARE could intervene, how to get there, geographical hazards and new sites.
  • Capacity and experience of CARE staff with shelter experience and skills. The ability of the CARE country office to support a shelter response with adequate logistics, procurement,  M&E and HR capacity. Availability of sector support.

In the first days a rapid needs assessment should be carried out. Out of necessity this will be an initial snap-shot of the situation and immediate needs. Nonetheless, all assessments should be gender sensitive taking particular account of the needs of women and girls.

The checklist below summarises the information that should be included and highlights some other information that should be verified.

Checklist for Rapid Needs Assessment

Primary data collected by RNA

  • Beneficiary information, demographic, vulnerability profile, ethnicity.
  • Current situation: camps (formal and informal), makeshift shelters, collective centres, tents, hosting etc
  • Distance from home / place of origin.
  • Obstacles to return if displaced
  • Priority needs: shelter, WASH, food, livelihoods
  • Local building typology or vernacular
  • Local building practice: self-build, contractor, master masons etc
  • Damage assessment of houses
  • Current hazards and risks; forthcoming hazards (eg monsoon, cold weather etc)
  • Availability of land and materials.
  • Are markets functioning? Can building materials be procured?
  • Understanding tenure and security of tenure
  • Self-recovery: are there signs that the community is beginning to recover? Are some families being left behind in the self-recovery process?
  • WASH conditions and needs
  • NFI needs – clothing, blankets, mattresses, cooking sets, fuel, buckets, jerry cans etc
  • Livelihoods and employment before the emergency and after.


  • How long will it take for people to reoccupy their homes?
  • Are there risks to personal and community health, both physical and psychosocial?
  • Does the current shelter situation pose an increased risk of GBV?
  • Are there other hazards that might affect the future shelter security of the area?

Displaced persons

  • Where will these families go next? Is further displacement likely? What longer-term solution is possible to aim for?
  • How long are communities likely to be displaced? Is it going to be longer than the funding period?
  • What is the exit strategy?
  • Have people crossed an international border? Have they applied for refugee status?
  • Are people settling less than 50 km from the conflict or border? (UNHCR, 2007)
  • Are the transitional settlement sites big enough, safe and sustainable?
  • Are there any time periods affecting the use of land or existing buildings? (e.g. school terms, religious festivals, agricultural activities, weather cycles).

Coordination and governance of the emergency response

  • Which organisation is coordinating the shelter response: national government, UNHCR (conflict), IFRC (natural disasters) or another organisation?
  • Has a UN Shelter Cluster been activated?
  • Is there a Cluster shelter strategy?
  • What other organisations are planning a shelter response, including the government? Are they talking to each other?
  • Is the government offering compensation? What is the likely time-frame?

CARE’s capacity

  • Does the CO have sufficient resources and capacity? Can its programme support – logistics, procurement, H&E, HR – accommodate rapid growth?
  • Does the CO have experience in shelter programming? Do its partners? Does it need specialist staff?
  • Will donors cover both emergency shelter and reconstruction in an appropriate time frame?

Templates for household and community needs assessments in both urban and rural settings are here:

Templates should not be used without reviewing them and amending them to be suitable to your particular context.

A housing damage assessment will provide information on the types of housing damage and the technical skills required in reconstruction; it should help identify the most common housing typologies and building techniques and investigate major causes of failure for those building categories. This type of household level survey may also provide information on the local building skills available and training needs (this can be complemented by a rapid market analysis including the availability of labour and construction materials.

If damage assessment is to determine the safety of a building, then specialist technical input is essential.  A more in depth damage assessment will entail house inspections with an experienced technical team (construction or engineering background  essential) in charge of taking all necessary measures, sketches and photos for each of the housing units assessed to then prepare the Bill of Quantities (BOQs) . The technical assessment team must be sufficiently trained and tested on the use of the survey form and equipment to ensure consistent data across surveyors.

For a detailed methodology for a housing damage assessment see: Safer Homes, Stronger Communities Handbook (Chapter 4: Assessment – Annex 2, How to Do It: Assessing Post-Disaster Housing Damage).

Sometimes it is necessary to undertake detailed analyses of the shelter situation (which may or may not be a so-called ‘rapid’ assessment). Where needs are overwhelming and it is necessary to carefully target limited resources, where standard shelter interventions are deemed inappropriate or simplistic, in urban areas, and in protracted crises, it can be very helpful to arrange a detailed assessment of the needs, the political, social and economic context they exist in, and the possible interventions. Such assessments can simply be a detailed shelter needs assessments, but can also incorporate market assessments of construction, housing, rental, and labour markets, shelter & gender assessments, or other specific investigations. They will usually include both desk-based research and gathering of primary data.

The shelter team can support the development of the Terms of Reference for a detailed assessment and analysis, and with identifying the right expertise to undertake the assessment.

Examples of detailed assessments include:

Markets are essential for providing people access to basic goods and services, but also for people’s livelihoods and for economic development. They provide essential items or services to meet basic needs, but they also protect livelihoods by providing job opportunities or linkage to buyers and producers and wage labour. Ignoring markets during or after an emergency will potentially weaken income generating opportunities, and can destroy or delay the ability of people to return to their livelihoods. For example, large scale in-kind distributions may disrupt local markets and reduce the opportunities for income regeneration.

Market assessments are generally conducted for the following reasons:

  1. To determine the level of accessibility to market places and availability of essential commodities at reasonable prices for the affected communities following a crisis;
  2. To identify suitable cash based interventions (CBIs) in place of or complementarily to in kind distributions – for example in case of NFI and winterization assistance, plenty of items compliant to international quality standards and specifications may be available in country or in local market places (e.g. blankets, cooking sets, sleeping mats, cooking stoves and heaters etc.);
  3. To investigate the potential for livelihoods regeneration and job creation, for example by assessing the availability of skilled and non-skilled labour for construction activities (masons, carpenters, foremen, local construction firms, local suppliers and traders etc.).

Adapted from:  Market Analysis for Urban Humanitarian Response – ALNAP Urban Webinar #12 http://www.alnap.org/webinar/20.aspx

Tools for market place assessments:

48 hour assessment tool – developed by Oxfam: http://www.ecbproject.org/ecb/efsl-48-hour-assessment-tool

IFRC Rapid Assessment for Markets (RAM): https://www.icrc.org/eng/assets/files/publications/icrc-002-4199.pdf

Tools for market analysis:

Emergency Market Mapping and Analysis (EMMA) toolkit: http://emma-toolkit.org/

The community engagement process should start from the assessment phase in order to complement the technical inputs to the response programme with the community perception of needs, vulnerabilities and capacities. A number of participatory tools for assessment have been tested and developed in both disaster and conflict related conflicts, for a more comprehensive understanding of the context and to define the way forward for the resilience building of the assisted communities.

While it is important to ensure that technical expertise is provided in conducting initial assessments and more generally, throughout the project cycle, social mobilisers and community volunteers should be trained and involved in participatory assessment to be able to facilitate a community led action planning process.

Vulnerability and Capacity Assessment  (VCA)

A vulnerability and capacity assessment (VCA) is a participatory approach to provide an overall analysis of a community’s needs and assets. It is a useful exercise for community groups, including the community representatives , the civil society groups and the local authorities to identify the communities most at risk, assess risks and hazards facing communities and the capacities they have for dealing with them. The VCA approach can feed into programme design and help develop realistic and relevant activities that are better suited to local needs and priorities.

For the VCA methodology see: How to do a VCA, IFRC


Participatory Approach to Safe Shelter Assistance (PASSA)

Drawing upon the practice of community action planning, PASSA uses the same methodology as the VCA toolkit and can be used to support communities to identify their own shelter and settlement issues and vulnerabilities, the root causes of those issues and develop their own solutions that should include spatial and environmental planning, local building cultures and techniques.

Eight participatory activities enable the participants to do the following progressively:

  • Develop their awareness of shelter safety issues in their community
  • Identify hazards and vulnerabilities that create risk related to shelter
  • Recognize and analyse causes of shelter vulnerability
  • Identify and prioritize potential strategies to improve shelter safety
  • Make a plan to put those shelter safety strategies into place, based on local capacities
  • Monitor and evaluate progress

Awareness raising and training needs on technical and non technical aspects of the construction process can be identified and prioritised with the beneficiaries, civil society and local authorities involved in the PASSA activities.

For more on the PASSA methodology see: IFRC Passa Manual – English

This is normally led by the government with UNOCHA support. The main goal of the PDNA is to assess the full extent of a disaster’s impact and define the needs for a national recovery. Its findings serve as the basis for designing a recovery strategy and a guide for donor funding.

Example of PDNA conducted in Nepal following the April and May 2015 Earthquakes

A REACH household needs assessment is often conducted shortly after a major emergency by the REACH Initiative. This gives a detailed snap-shot across many affected communities. It informs assessments that have already been carried out, but is often too late to substitute for the rapid needs assessment (RNA) done by CARE.


More guidance on needs assessment can be found here: