Thematic Areas

Humanitarian Needs Assessment

HNA - Industry Standards and Guidelines

HNA - Industry Standards and Guidelines

A range of international principles and standards define quality in humanitarian response. These include the Humanitarian Principles adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, the Code of Conduct of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent, and the Humanitarian Charter, Core Humanitarian Standard, Protection Principles and Minimum Standards which are all laid out in the Sphere Handbook. Those carrying out a needs assessment should be aware of the principles and standards that apply and should ensure that the work they do is in line with them.

The Humanitarian Principles

The Humanitarian Principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence are the foundations for humanitarian action. They are formally enshrined in two UN General Assembly Resolutions (46/182 and 58/114). The Humanitarian Principles apply throughout the needs assessment process and it’s important to ensure that they are fully understood by the needs assessment team.

Humanitarian Principle

Humanity - Human suffering must be addressed wherever it is found. The purpose of humanitarian action is to protect life and health and ensure respect for human beings.

What it means for needs assessment

  • Show concern for human welfare and respect for the individual.

Humanitarian Principle

Neutrality - Humanitarian actors must not take sides in hostilities or engage in controversies of a political, racial, religious or ideological.

What it means for needs assessment

  • Be aware of political, racial, religious or ideological issues affecting the community and do not take sides.
  • Ensure that you have a diverse team and be aware of the political, racial, ideological, religious beliefs or prejudices of team members to ensure that these don’t influence the needs assessment. 

NB. ActionAid’s humanitarian assistance is neutral in the sense that we never take sides with actors in a conflict or with political parties. However, ActionAid does take sides with people living in poverty and exclusion. In our analysis, the assertion of people’s rights in emergencies is a political process and in this sense humanitarian assistance cannot be truly neutral.

Humanitarian Principle

Impartiality - Humanitarian action must be carried out on the basis of need alone, giving priority to the most urgent cases of distress and making no distinctions on the basis of nationality.

What it means for needs assessment

  • Focus on the needs of those most affected by the emergency, regardless of nationality, race, religious beliefs, class or political opinions.
  • Work with women’s groups to identify the most vulnerable, rather than just allowing priorities to be set by community leaders.
  • Put together a diverse needs assessment team, which is representative of the community in which you are carrying out the needs analysis.
  • Where ActionAid choses to work in its own LRPs, rather than other disaster-affected areas, be clear why this is.
  • Use power analysis to understand the role of your partner organisation – their legitimacy, community knowledge, and relationships with government and other stakeholders.

Independence - Humanitarian action must be autonomous from the political, economic, military or other objectives that any actor may hold with regard to areas where humanitarian action is being implemented.

What it means for needs assessment

  • Be clear about what ActionAid’s principles are and how it follows them.
  • Carry out a risk analysis, including a criteria on independence, to ensure that you are able to resist political, ideological or economic interference in the needs assessment process.
  • Support the role of duty bearers but remain independent and do not be afraid to challenge government when necessary.

The Code of Conduct

The Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement sets out ten core principles as well as three annexes with recommendations to governments of affected states, donor governments and intergovernmental organizations. More than 492 organisations have signed the Code of Conduct, including ActionAid.

  1. The humanitarian imperative comes first.
  2. Aid is given regardless of the race, creed or nationality of the recipients and without adverse distinction of any kind. Aid priorities are calculated on the basis of need alone.
  3. Aid will not be used to further a particular political or religious standpoint.
  4. We shall endeavour not to act as instruments of government foreign policy.
  5. We shall respect culture and custom.
  6. We shall attempt to build disaster response on local capacities.
  7. Ways shall be found to involve programme beneficiaries in the management of relief aid.
  8. Relief aid must strive to reduce future vulnerabilities to disaster as well as meeting basic needs.
  9. We hold ourselves accountable to both those we seek to assist and those from whom we accept resources.
  10. In our information, publicity and advertising activities, we shall recognise disaster victims as dignified human beings, not hopeless objects.

The Sphere Principles and Standards

The Sphere Handbook sets out an internationally recognised sets of common principles and universal minimum standards in life-saving areas of humanitarian response. These include the Humanitarian Charter, the Protection Principles, the Core Humanitarian Standard and the Minimum Standards.

The Humanitarian Charter

The Humanitarian Charter provides the ethical and legal backdrop to the principles and standards that are set out in the Sphere Handbook. It contains a series of rights and obligations aimed at ensuring the welfare of crisis-affected populations. The Charter also captures a consensus among different humanitarian actors as to the shared principles which should guide the response to disaster or conflict. The Humanitarian Charter principles include the right to life with dignity, the right to receive humanitarian assistance, and the right to protection and security, as well as rights and duties envisaged by international law.

The Protection Principles

Four Protection Principles articulate the role that all humanitarian actors can play in helping protect people affected by disaster or conflict:

  1. Enhance the safety, dignity and rights of people, and avoid exposing them to harm.
  2. Ensure people’s access to assistance according to need and without discrimination.
  3. Assist people to recover from the physical and psychological effects of threatened or actual violence, coercion or deliberate deprivation.
  4. Help people claim their rights.

The Core Humanitarian Standard

The Core Humanitarian Standard sets out nine commitments that organisations and individuals involved in humanitarian response can use to improve the quality and effectiveness of the assistance they provide. These are:

  1. Humanitarian response is appropriate and relevant.
  2. Humanitarian response is effective and timely.
  3. Humanitarian response strengthens local capacities and avoids negative effects.
  4. Humanitarian response is based on communication, participation and feedback.
  5. Complaints are welcomed and addressed.
  6. Humanitarian response is coordinated and complementary.
  7. Humanitarian actors continuously learn and improve.
  8. Staff are supported to do their job effectively, and are treated fairly and equitably.
  9. Resources are managed and used responsibly for their intended purpose. 

The Minimum Standards

The Sphere Minimum Standards provide a basis for needs assessment and analysis in four sectors (WASH, food security, shelter and health), with assessment checklists available in each chapter of the Handbook. Partner organisations have developed complementary standards in several sectors, based on the same philosophy and commitments as Sphere’s. These include:



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