Needs Assessment and Analysis

From a sanitation perspective, a needs assessment provides the baseline information necessary to identify the impact of a crisis on a disaster-affected community and to guide decision-making for the practical implementation of sanitation services. This first stage of implementation is characterised mainly by data collection and subsequent data analysis. 

Key Actions

    • Identify the target population: Determine who the assessment is intended to benefit.

    • Involve the community in the assessment process to ensure that their needs and perspectives are included.

    • Use multiple sources of data to verify the accuracy and reliability of the findings.

    • Write a report that summarises the findings and recommendations for addressing the identified needs.

    • Conduct a joint assessment or share assessment information with the affected population and relevant coordination groups (e.g. (sub-) National WASH Cluster) promptly and in a format that can be readily used by other humanitarian agencies.


Sanitation is a critical issue in emergencies as it can have a major impact on the health and well-being of the affected population. Conducting a sanitation needs assessment is important to ensure that appropriate interventions are implemented.

A sanitation needs assessment produces an initial understanding of the current state of the sanitation, its context and key risks, and become familiar with the actors involved. It also enables humanitarian actors to distinguish between urgent life-saving needs and needs that will require attention at a later phase. A sanitation needs assessment asks questions specific to access to sanitation facilities and subsequent Faecal Sludge Management (FSM). It is normally part of a broader WASH needs assessment which identifies the main water and sanitation challenges. The focus here is on sanitation needs assessment only.


An initial rapid sanitation assessment should be conducted in the acute emergency phase as it forms the basis of an emergency sanitation and FSM response programme. The information gathered in a sanitation needs assessment should describe whether the on-site sanitation is sufficient or whether the entire sanitation service chain is necessary. One tool to help visualise the level of sanitation services required is the Shit Flow Diagram.

The assessment should be coordinated and supervised by an experienced sanitation professional (preferably familiar with the context) and supported by WASH specialists who speak the local language and are well-connected to the affected communities. Ideally, the assessment team should be gender-balanced.

Many assessment checklists are available based on agreed humanitarian standards (e.g. the needs assessment checklist in the Sphere Handbook). If available, consult the WASH Cluster on standardised checklists. A sanitation needs assessment should cover the following information:

    • Sanitation coverage and infrastructure conditions, management arrangements and services.

    • Prevalence of diseases related to faecal matter (e.g. diarrhoea, cholera, bacillary dysentery, cryptosporidiosis) that require careful management.

    • Ground conditions and environmental factors (e.g. presence of rocky ground, high groundwater table or flood-prone areas) that may affect decisions about appropriate sanitation options.

    • Existing local sanitation actors (such as local governments, service providers or utilities) and their roles and capacities.

    • Key hygiene practices and preferences, cultural habits and taboos such as anal cleansing habits (with water or with dry material), defecating position (sitting vs. squatting) (through secondary data or Key Informant Interviews).

    • Commonly used sanitation solutions in the area, including existing sanitation designs and standards.

    • 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).

    • Specific vulnerabilities (e.g. people with disabilities or specific diseases, elderly people or children) in order to tailor services accordingly.

    • Institutional and legal constraints (e.g. land ownership, discharge standards or discharge requirements).

    • Accessibility of the area (e.g. for desludging vehicles) and potential space limitations or opportunities.

    • Potential to work or respond through local market structures including the availability of relevant construction materials and hygiene products (e.g. soap, menstrual products or anal cleansing materials).

    • Preferred communication channels of the affected population. It may help to identify potential entry points and develop the communication strategy later on.

Author(s) (1)
Catherine Bourgault
Center for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology (CAWST)
Reviewer(s) / Contributor(s) (4)
Rob Gensch
German Toilet Organization (GTO)
Marij Zwart
Netherlands Red Cross (NLRC)
Jan Heeger
Netherlands Red Cross (NLRC)
Florian Haas
Austrian Red Cross (ÖRK)

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