Prioritisation is the process of prioritising the most urgent needs of a population affected by a crisis, often using limited resources, and assessing how to address those needs effectively and efficiently.  

Key Actions

    • Rank Priorities: Based on the identified needs, rank the sanitation priorities in order of importance. For example, the availability of clean water might be the highest priority, followed by the provision of toilets and latrines and, finally, waste management. The priority geographical areas of the intervention can also be based on ranked needs; in this situation, health data on diarrhoea outbreaks plays a significant role.

    • Assess Feasibility: Using information about the available resources, the capacities of local actors and any constraints or challenges that may arise during implementation (e.g. seasonality such as monsoons, rainy/dry season or winter), assess the feasibility of addressing the prioritised sanitation needs.

    • Use a phased approach: Based on the ranked priorities, decide which sanitation needs to address first, taking into account the impact that addressing these needs will have on affected populations and the feasibility of implementation. For example, the provision of shared toilets/latrines might initially be the highest priority (to serve as many people as possible fast), with household sanitation solutions addressed later once initial priorities have been met.

    • Coordinate and collaborate: Share information about capacities and plans transparently with other WASH organisations and the affected communities. Explain the intervention and why and how the priorities were selected. Through coordination, other WASH partners and community members may pick up lower priorities that were not selected, or undertake additional activities to meet Sphere standards. Coordination is also important to prevent massive differences in received aid between different communities.


Prioritisation is the last step in the Needs Assessment and Analysis phase of the humanitarian programme cycle. It is a critical step to ensure that limited resources are used effectively and that the most vulnerable populations receive the help they need. In the aftermath of a crisis, needs can be infinite and resources limited. The prioritisation process helps to identify the most urgent needs and allocate resources accordingly.


Based on the information gathered in the Needs Assessment, priorities can be decided to ensure the most pressing needs are addressed and to determine which interventions will have the most significant impact.

The Sphere Handbook (Sphere Project 2018) is a helpful prioritisation tool. It provides minimum standards to be met in key lifesaving areas (including WASH). The Handbook includes three standards for sanitation and excreta disposal. Sphere often takes a phased approach; different priorities can be identified in each phase and Sphere’s suggested indicators adapted accordingly. The Sphere standards are considered minimum standards and, if possible, humanitarian activities should aim to move beyond the minimum.

For sanitation, the prioritisation process helps to identify key interventions and priority geographical areas. For example, in the acute phase constructing shared latrines to serve a larger number of users fast, versus household latrines later in the emergency. Priority intervention areas may be selected according to the most acute needs and risks to the affected population (such as critically unserved areas or the risk of a potential diarrhoea or cholera outbreak). The decisions should be based on the urgency and phase of the response as well as the vulnerabilities of the affected population, the preferences of intended users, existing infrastructure and sanitation service providers in the area, soil formation, the availability of water, construction materials and resources and the capacities of staff and local actors. Prioritisation can also aid decision-making about whether the onsite sanitation is adequate for needs in the early stage of the response and whether (or when) the entire sanitation service chain should be reviewed to ensure that excreta management facilities, infrastructure and systems are safely managed and maintained with minimum impact on the surrounding environment.

Several tools are available to prioritise needs identified in a needs assessment analysis in an emergency. Examples include:

    • Decision-making frameworks: These frameworks provide a structured approach for analysing and prioritising needs based on a set of criteria. The Shit Flow Diagram is a helpful example.

    • GIS mapping: Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping tools can visualise and analyse data about the needs of the affected population and the resources available to meet those needs, helping to identify patterns and trends that may not be immediately apparent and to prioritise interventions accordingly.

    • Stakeholder consultation: Engaging with local partners and affected communities can help ensure that the prioritisation process is transparent and fair and accounts for the specific needs and context of the affected population.

    • Cost-benefit analysis: This tool analyses the costs and benefits of different interventions to identify the most cost-effective options.

    • Multi-criteria decision analysis: This approach evaluates multiple criteria such as the impact of an intervention, its likelihood of success and its cost in order to prioritise needs.

A combination of tools and approaches is essential to ensure the prioritisation process is comprehensive and accurate. The affected population should be actively engaged in the process.

Prioritisation should take place at the beginning of the project cycle. However, it is an ongoing process and should be revised as the situation evolves and new information becomes available ensuring that the ranking of needs remains relevant and effective.

Author(s) (1)
Catherine Bourgault
Center for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology (CAWST)
Reviewer(s) / Contributor(s) (3)
Rob Gensch
German Toilet Organization (GTO)
Marij Zwart
Netherlands Red Cross (NLRC)
Florian Haas
Austrian Red Cross (ÖRK)

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