Lessons paper

Responding to flood disasters: Learning from previous relief and recovery operations

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This paper presents lessons learned from previous flood responses, based on a structured review of the literature. It is intended for people working in relief and recovery operations who have to decide if, when and how to intervene after a flood.

This Lessons Paper builds on a previous ALNAP Lessons Paper written by Khurshid Alam and published in 2008.

The most important lessons identified in this review are as follows:

  1. Needs assessments should incorporate existing knowledge and be flexible.
  2. Floods are not short-term events.
  3. Disasters create opportunities for disaster risk reduction.
  4. Economically vulnerable people are most at risk of death during flooding.
  5. Engagement with local authorities is critical.
  6. Engagement with the affected population is critical.
  7. The risk of disease outbreak is real but lower than commonly thought.
  8. Avoiding interruptions to water and sanitation services is key to preventing disease.
  9. Simply replacing assets may perpetuate or even increase existing inequities.
  10. Decisions about restocking must be made with careful attention to the context.
  11. Shelter reconstruction works best when it is owner controlled.
  12. Relocation should be treated as a last resort.


  • Publication language: English
  • Pages: 38pp
  • Suggested citation: Cosgrave, J. (2014) Responding to Flood Disasters: Learning from previous relief and recovery operations. London: ALNAP.