X.1 Assessment of the Initial Situation

In a humanitarian emergency, the assessment of the initial situation is a crucial first step in the planning process. It provides the baseline information necessary to guide decision-making for practical implementation. The main goals of the assessment are to gain a first understanding of the context and key risks and to become familiar with the actors involved. An initial assessment should provide enough information to start elaborating sanitation scenarios, including context-specific design parameters. This stage is characterised mainly by data collection, via different means, and subsequent data analysis.

Collecting good quality, relevant data is often not an easy task, particularly in contexts where data is already scarce, as it has either not been collected or analysed properly, or, sometimes, hidden or manipulated for political or personal reasons. Secondary data (see table 1) is existing data (e.g. reports, statistics or maps) usually available from Governmental agencies, national or regional WASH cluster structures or other organisations previously active in the affected area, and which can serve as a preliminary introduction to the context. However, secondary data should always be considered with care, and the collection of primary data (see table 1) that involves direct contact with the respondents (by means of interviews or questionnaires or other participatory methods) is recommended. The best way to get a reasonably accurate assessment is to rely on several sources of information, which can be cross-checked, triangulated and, if necessary, complemented by further research.

The human dimension of an initial assessment should not be overlooked as this is when the first contact occurs andtrust can be developed with the stakeholders. The role of the local facilitator(s) is very important here X.12, as they help to open doors and gain access to information. It should be remembered that data sets, if they exist, are not always readily accessible and getting accurate information usually depends on the goodwill of local partners and actors.

The means of safely collecting and hygienically disposing of excreta and liquid wastes for the protection of public health and the preservation of the quality of public water bodies and, more generally, of the environment.

Initial WASH Assessment

An initial rapid WASH assessment typically follows a multi-sectoral needs assessment. The purpose of a rapid WASH assessment is, from a WASH perspective, to identify the impact of the crisis, make initial estimates of needs, and define priorities for action. Such an assessment is crucial, even in an acute emergency; it is the basis of a successful WASH emergency response programme and will ultimately determine whether sanitation facilities are properly designed, used and maintained. An initial rapid WASH assessment should take place within the first three days of the onset of the emergency. Depending on the scale of the emergency, and the time and resources available, the assessment exercise should be completed within one day. It is important that the assessment is coordinated and supervised by an experienced WASH professional and jointly undertaken with WASH actors, preferably familiar with the context, that speak the local language and ideally in gender-balanced teams. Implementing a successful WASH needs assessment requires expertise in water engineering, hydrogeology, sanitation, hygiene, data collection, data management, as well as social competencies. Often decisions at the initial stage of a crisis are based on limited or dynamic information, but it is important also to plan for the various future scenarios that may unfold. Many assessment checklists are available, based on agreed humanitarian standards (for example, see the needs assessment checklist in the Sphere Handbook). It is important to share assessment information with the relevant coordination groups (e.g. WASH Cluster) in a timely manner and in a format, that can be readily used by other humanitarian agencies. The overall aim of initial WASH assessments is to allow humanitarian actors to distinguish between urgent lifesaving needs and needs that require attention at a later phase. The specific objectives of an initial WASH assessment are:

  • To identify water and hygiene conditions: drinking water sources, coverage and infrastructure, types of supply (e.g. networks, taps in houses, fountains, trucks), operators (public/private), prevalence of diseases related to faecal matter (e.g. diarrhoea, cholera, bacillary dysentery, cryptosporidiosis) that require careful management
  • To assess ground conditions and environmental factors (e.g. presence of rocky ground, high groundwater table, flood prone areas, climatic data etc.) which may affect decisions on appropriate sanitation options (X.3)
  • To identify sanitation actors and their roles, and to conduct a brief stakeholder analysis
  • To assess key hygiene practices, cultural habits and taboos in terms of water needs and sanitation, for example anal cleansing habits (with water or with dry material) and defecating position (sitting vs. squatting) (secondary data, key informants)
  • To identify sanitation “hot spots” (e.g. open defecation areas, surface water points used for bathing, washing or drinking purposes, open drains, wastewater and faecal sludge discharge points)
  • To identify specific vulnerabilities, for example people with disabilities or specific diseases in order to tailor WASH services accordingly X.10
  • To assess capacity of the affected people and relevant authorities to respond (through stakeholder analysis, key informants, observation)
  • To identify institutional and legal constraints (e.g. land ownership, discharge standards, discharge requirements etc.)
  • To identify existing WASH infrastructure conditions, management arrangements and services
  • To assess accessibility of the area (e.g. for desludging vehicles) and potential space limitations or opportunities
  • To assess potential to work/respond through local market structures and check the availability of relevant construction material X.13

Key information should be collected from as many different people and sources as possible to validate findings. Additional data may be collected after decisions have been made for confirmation. Key technical partners during the assessment are the line ministries (e.g. water, health), NGOs (international and national) and UN agencies such as UNHCR, OCHA, UNICEF and WHO.

Table 1: Assessment Data Sources
Primary Data Sources Secondary Data Sources
  • Key informant interviews
  • Focus group discussions
  • (Semi-structured) interviews
  • Participatory/community mapping
  • Observation and (transect) walks
  • Participatory methods such as 3-pile-sorting, problem ranking, pocket chart voting
  • Emergency market mapping
  • Mobile based surveys
  • Water, energy, environment, health, urban development ministries and local authorities
  • Census data and household enumeration
  • Demographic and health surveys
  • Global satellite images providers (UNITAR/UNOSAT)
  • UNHCR and UNICEF databases and reports
  • Country-specific cluster information on "humanitarianresponse.info"
  • Other UN agencies, UN-OCHA, UN-Habitat and UNICEF
  • NGOs and development agencies that worked in the area before the crisis
Mixture of solids and liquids, containing mostly excreta and water, in combination with sand, grit, metals, trash and/or various chemical compounds. A distinction can be made between faecal sludge and wastewater sludge. Faecal sludge comes from on-site sanitation technologies, i.e. it has not been transported through a sewer. It can be raw or partially digested, a slurry or semisolid, and results from the collection and storage/treatment of excreta or blackwater, with or without greywater. Wastewater sludge (also referred to as sewage sludge) originates from sewer-based wastewater collection and (semi-)centralised treatment processes. The sludge composition will determine the type of treatment that is required and the end-use possibilities.Describes technologies for on-site collection, storage, and sometimes (pre-) treatment of the products generated at the user interface. The treatment provided by these technologies is often a function of storage and is usually passive (i.e. requires no energy input), except a few emerging technologies where additives are needed. Thus, products that are ‘treated’ by these technologies often require subsequent treatment before use and/or disposal. In the technology overview graphic, this functional group is subdivided into the two subgroups: “Collection/Storage” and “(Pre-)Treatment”. This allows a further classification for each of the listed technologies with regard to their function: collection and storage, (pre-) treatment only or both.Refers to the methods through which products are returned to the environment, either as useful resources or reduced-risk materials. Some products can also be cycled back into a system (e.g. by using treated greywater for flushing).A functional group is a grouping of technologies that have similar functions. The compendium proposes five different functional groups from which technologies can be chosen to build a sanitation system: User interface (U), Collection and Storage/Treatment (S), Conveyance (C), (Semi-) Centralised Treatment (T), Use and/or Disposal (U). A sanitation system is a multi-step process in which sanitation products such as human excreta and wastewater are managed from the point of generation to the point of use or ultimate disposal. It is a context-specific series of technologies and services for the management of these sanitation products, i.e. for their collection, containment, transport, treatment, transformation, use or disposal. A sanitation system comprises functional groups of technologies that can be selected according to context. By selecting technologies from each applicable functional group, considering the incoming and outgoing products, and the suitability of the technologies in a particular context, a logical, modular sanitation system can be designed. A sanitation system also includes the management and operation and maintenance (O & M) required to ensure that the system functions safely and sustainably. The process of removing the accumulated sludge from a storage or treatment facility. The utilisation of products derived from a sanitation system. Water that is located beneath the earth’s surface. A sanitation system in which excreta and wastewater are collected and stored or treated on the plot where they are generated. Practice of defecating outside in the open environment. The means of safely collecting and hygienically disposing of excreta and liquid wastes for the protection of public health and the preservation of the quality of public water bodies and, more generally, of the environment. Waste matter that is transported through the sewer. An open channel or closed pipe used to convey sewage. See C.3 and C.4 A natural or man-made water body that appears on the surface, such as a stream, river, lake, pond, or reservoir. Used water from any combination of domestic, industrial, commercial or agricultural activities, surface runoff/stormwater, and any sewer inflow/infiltration. Waste matter that is transported through the sewer.

Assessment of Existing Sanitation Infrastructure Conditions

Determining the condition of the existing sanitation infrastructure is an essential part of any needs assessment especially in contexts where it is insufficient or aging. When assessing sanitation infrastructure, the entire sanitation chain from the user interface U through collection and storage/treatment S , conveyance C , (semi-) centralised treatment T to use and/or disposal D should be described. Key characteristics of each component of the sanitation service chain should be noted including existing gaps, access issues, hazards, damage and the overall risks to public health. Certain large-scale sanitation infrastructures (such as large sewage plants) can be difficult to assess and may require specialized expertise. Once infrastructure has been assessed the team can define priorities for the sanitation response X.2.

Describes the type of toilet, pedestal, pan, or urinal that the user comes into contact with; it is the way users access the sanitation system. In many cases, the choice of user interface will depend on the availability of water and user preferences. Additionally, handwashing facilities have been included here with a dedicated technology information sheet as a constant reminder that each sanitation user interface needs to be equipped with handwashing facilities for optimal hygiene outcomes.Describes technologies for on-site collection, storage, and sometimes (pre-) treatment of the products generated at the user interface. The treatment provided by these technologies is often a function of storage and is usually passive (i.e. requires no energy input), except a few emerging technologies where additives are needed. Thus, products that are ‘treated’ by these technologies often require subsequent treatment before use and/or disposal. In the technology overview graphic, this functional group is subdivided into the two subgroups: “Collection/Storage” and “(Pre-)Treatment”. This allows a further classification for each of the listed technologies with regard to their function: collection and storage, (pre-) treatment only or both.Describes the transport of products from one functional group to another. Although products may need to be transferred in various ways between functional groups, the longest, and most important gap is usually between the user interface or collection and storage/treatment and (semi-) centralised treatment. Therefore, for simplicity, conveyance only describes the technologies used to transport products between these two functional groups. In the technology overview graphic, the conveyance functional group is subdivided into the two subgroups: “Emptying and Transport” and “Intermediate Storage”. This allows for a more detailed classification of each of the listed conveyance technologies.Refers to the methods through which products are returned to the environment, either as useful resources or reduced-risk materials. Some products can also be cycled back into a system (e.g. by using treated greywater for flushing).A functional group is a grouping of technologies that have similar functions. The compendium proposes five different functional groups from which technologies can be chosen to build a sanitation system: User interface (U), Collection and Storage/Treatment (S), Conveyance (C), (Semi-) Centralised Treatment (T), Use and/or Disposal (U). A sanitation system is a multi-step process in which sanitation products such as human excreta and wastewater are managed from the point of generation to the point of use or ultimate disposal. It is a context-specific series of technologies and services for the management of these sanitation products, i.e. for their collection, containment, transport, treatment, transformation, use or disposal. A sanitation system comprises functional groups of technologies that can be selected according to context. By selecting technologies from each applicable functional group, considering the incoming and outgoing products, and the suitability of the technologies in a particular context, a logical, modular sanitation system can be designed. A sanitation system also includes the management and operation and maintenance (O & M) required to ensure that the system functions safely and sustainably. The means of safely collecting and hygienically disposing of excreta and liquid wastes for the protection of public health and the preservation of the quality of public water bodies and, more generally, of the environment. Waste matter that is transported through the sewer. An open channel or closed pipe used to convey sewage. See C.3 and C.4 User interface used for urination and defecation. Used water from any combination of domestic, industrial, commercial or agricultural activities, surface runoff/stormwater, and any sewer inflow/infiltration. Le transport des produits d’un groupe fonctionnel à un autre. La distance la plus longue et les défaillances les plus importantes se situent en général entre l’interface utilisateur ou la collecte et le stockage/traitement, et le traitement (semi-)centralisé. C’est pourquoi, pour simplifier, le transport ne décrit que les technologies utilisées pour transporter les produits entre ces groupes fonctionnels. Dans le graphique de présentation des technologies, le groupe fonctionnel « transport » est subdivisé en trois sous-groupes: « vidange/raccordement », « transport » et « stockage intermédiaire ». Ceci permet d’affiner la classification de chacune des technologies qui y sont listées en fonction de leur rôle dans le processus de transport.Waste matter that is transported through the sewer.
arrow_upward