The ability to define and measure humanitarian impact is essential to providing operational agencies with the tools to systematically evaluate the relative efficacy of various types of interventions. Aggregating lessons learned across organizations, operations, and time is critical to the creation of an evidence base which can continue to inform the sector about improvement. Institutionalizing good practice in the systems and structures of relief organizations is critical to their ability to meet the growing demands on the sector and the needs of people made vulnerable by disasters and humanitarian crises. Similarly, communicating the effectiveness of impact is necessary for the humanitarian sector to respond to increasing pressure from donors and the general public to demonstrate the results of its efforts.


To gain insight into the effectiveness of humanitarian assistance from the perspective of those who received it, Fritz Institute engaged local research partners to embark on a series of in-person surveys to measure aid beneficiary satisfaction. In all, over 6,000 households affected by disasters were surveyed, looking across aid agencies, forms of assistance, countries and time.  

Java tsunami
Continuing our investigations of the impressions of people affected by natural disasters worldwide, Fritz Institute surveyed 123 people affected by the July 2006 tsunami on the island of Java. As trained research teams were already on the island to assess the humanitarian impact of the May 2006 earthquake, the research was able to commence within one week of the occurrence of the tsunami. The timing provided the research partners a unique opportunity to immediately tap into the perceptions of assistance provided by various relief actors. Replicating the approach of previous surveys, respondents were asked about the damage and loss suffered, perceptions of aid needed and aid received, providers of aid, and their satisfaction with the timeliness and adequacy of the assistance. 

Java Earthquake
One month after an earthquake struck Indonesia's island of Java in May 2006, Fritz Institute initiated a survey of 504 affected households in a continued effort to understand the outcomes of humanitarian assistance from the perspective of those it seeks to help. As in previous surveys, aid recipients were asked about the assistance needed and received, and their satisfaction 48 hours and one month after the earthquake. The timing of the fieldwork enabled the interviewers to also ask affected households about the emergency response to the Mt. Merapi volcanic activity. It is hoped that such systematic and successive studies will provide insight into common challenges encountered with the type of aid distributed and the process of aid distribution. 

Pakistan Earthquake
To assess the effectiveness of the Pakistan earthquake relief and rehabilitation efforts, Fritz Institute conducted a survey of 621 affected households to gauge their perceptions of the damage, loss, and humanitarian assistance provided. Household interviews were conducted in the local language by interviewers from the region. Building on the large-scale, quantitative surveys of aid recipients Fritz Institute conducted after the South Asia tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, it is hoped that this ongoing research of beneficiary perceptions will provide insight to donors, policy makers, governments, and humanitarian agencies about the factors that influence the effectiveness of humanitarian aid.  

Hurricane Katrina
To measure the perceptions and experiences of aid recipients in the Hurricane Katrina-impacted regions of the United States, Fritz Institute partnered with Harris Interactive to conduct surveys of 1,089 affected individuals. Incorporating a mix of online, telephone and in-person methodologies, the survey captured a wide geographic scope and was able to target those less likely to have access to email and those who fall into lower income or minority groups.  By creating a fair and efficient feedback system that is inclusive of all disaster victims, Fritz Institute hopes to draw attention to the successes and inadequacies of relief services in the aftermath of Katrina so that lessons learned can be applied to future relief efforts. To learn more, please visit our South Asia tsunami program page

Southeast Asia tsunami
Fritz Institute conducted the first survey of aid beneficiaries across organizations, countries and time in response to the South Asia tsunami. In partnership with TNS, a global social science research organization with a local presence in the affected countries, the Institute undertook a large-scale quantitative study of aid recipients in Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka. These surveys, which included interviews with over 4,000 families from hundreds of affected villages, provide a record of the destruction of the tsunami, the devastation on the lives and livelihoods, their perceptions of the quality, effectiveness and appropriateness of aid, and the challenges that they continue to face.  

To learn more, please visit our South Asia tsunami program page.


Between 2004 and 2006 Fritz Institute hosted annual conferences on humanitarian impact, convening scholars, practitioners, policymakers and donors to discuss what works, why, and how to address what does not work. The conferences alternated between venues in the North and the South. The first Humanitarian Impact Conference was held in Washington DC in May 2004. In December 2005, the same issues were posed in a conference held in Chennai, India. The 2006 Conference on Humanitarian Impact was held in Sebastopol, California on May 19-20.

A Fritz Institute study found that 26% of those who did not evacuate before Hurricane Katrina had to wait at least one week for outside assistance, and of those, 43% were people with disabilities.

Right now, there are 35 million uprooted people because of conflict and wars, and that puts a tremendous strain on the resources of the international community. We need to focus much more than we have on learning the best processes for conducting our organizational responsibilities and also the logistics that we are providing assistance in the field and from that we can also learn much from businesses and develop very cost-effective and efficient systems.

- George Rupp, President,
International Rescue Committee
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