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Re-Thinking the Focus of Rapid Needs Assessments

Rapid assessments are identifying crucial humanitarian needs in the aftermath of the earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria, but they could benefit from closer reflection on how to support the recovery of urgently needed livelihoods, particularly for the most vulnerable.

Following the devastating earthquakes that struck Syria and Türkiye on February 6, rapid assessments were quickly launched to identify needs in affected communities, track displacement patterns, and assess availability of essential services. Using traditional data-collection methods and more innovative solutions, such as drones and satellite images, detailed overviews and analysis were available within days to identify some of the dire needs in the affected communities.

With seemingly insurmountable needs captured in the rapid assessments, humanitarian actors are endeavoring to find solutions and strategies that will have quick results. These organizations are delivering according to the identified needs. For instance, there is data showing that while functioning markets remain in Northwest Syria, many households lack sufficient funds to purchase goods from those markets. As such, humanitarian actors are focusing, inter alia, on providing multipurpose cash assistance and cash for protection for vulnerable, women-headed households. While this type of assistance is needed, it is inherently unsustainable. After limited rounds of assistance, households will not be able to meet their needs.

Integrated and immediate humanitarian aid programs are indispensable, but they can create dependencies – especially for the most vulnerable members of the affected communities. Prior to the earthquake, many families were already highly dependent on aid and able neither to meet basic needs nor access sufficient public services without humanitarian funding. To mitigate the dependency on external assistance, which is also being stretched thin in the face of other global crises (such as Ukraine and Afghanistan), humanitarian actors and donors need deeper insight about how to allocate resources for not only the coming days, but also the months and years ahead.

These insights are essential as the pressure mounts on community members – particularly vulnerable ones – to create incomes that can cover their needs as aid declines. This pressure could spiral into protection risks, and we will likely result in an increase in early marriage, child labor, and other concerns affecting women and girls. We have observed over the past years that protection risks are linked to the families’ livelihoods, which means that women-headed households with lower incomes are particularly at risk.

These women-headed households face not only the pressure of earning the family’s income, but also of unpaid care duties, which may hinder their abilities to re-start their livelihoods – or force older children, especially girls, to drop out of school to take care of younger siblings. In turn, this dynamic places these school drop-outs in a difficult position when looking to find employment in the coming years.

Therefore, even in the immediate wake of the earthquakes, needs assessments should reflect the ideas, needs, and preferences of (women-headed) households for building and recovering livelihoods. These assessments will be crucial for providing the international community with guidance on how to shape responses by providing suitable and sustainable livelihood and income-generation opportunities.

As a result of the devastating consequences of the earthquakes, households may require loans or grants to re-start their previous businesses. Families may also decide to settle in rural areas but face challenges entering the agriculture sector without owning their own land. Families may also turn to running home-based business but lack the requisite start-up capital or marketing skills. But we won’t be sure – not until we ask the affected communities.

The earthquakes have pushed people to leave their homes in search of safety and stability. Temporary shelters and reliance on relatives may provide safety. However, humanitarian programs will need to step in for stability, supporting emergency livelihood opportunities for the affected people. Humanitarian programs are unlikely to focus their resources in this area – unless we collect data on these needs and provide evidence of their importance.

Katharina is Proximity's Strategic Development Lead and Program Manager. She was previously based in Hatay where she worked with the Syrian organization Violet, supporting Northwest Syria's humanitarian response.


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