The Southern Africa Crisis: A Critical Review of Needs Assessment Practice and Its Influence on Resource Allocation

Working and discussion papers
September 2003
James Darcy, Andre Griekspoor, Adele Harmer and Fiona Watson

This case study, one of five, is part of a research project by the Humanitarian Policy Group (HPG) on the assessment of humanitarian needs. The focus of the study is the international system, exploring the link between needs assessment and decision-making (by agencies and donors) about response and resource allocation, with a specific focus on the food and health sectors. The underlying concern is with global funding disparities: levels of funding do not seem to correlate with levels of need, and the most urgent cases are not consistently prioritised. Yet the humanitarian ‘system’ lacks a consistent and objective basis for deciding which those cases are, and the means to decide about the allocation of resources between competing priorities.

This case study explores the relationship between humanitarian needs assessment and decisionmaking in a slow-onset emergency. It is concerned principally with the international humanitarian system and its criteria for response, with a focus on the food and health sectors. It does not attempt to analyse the Southern Africa crisis per se, nor to evaluate the response to it. It focuses on three thematic areas: conceptual issues, the practice of needs assessment, and the link to decision-making processes in agencies and donors.

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