With both sudden-onset and chronic events, the populations under consideration require humanitarian relief at the time of, or immediately following, the crisis, as well as in the post-disaster, recovery phase of the event. Development aid ideally serves as a preventive measure to increase the resistance of a particular group of people to the effects of a natural or human-induced event, thereby decreasing their vulnerability. Development aid is also an important element of the disaster cycle with a role in generating a sustainable foundation for a population to support itself. Considerations of populations at risk, therefore, ought to address chronic and sudden-onset events at local, regional, and national scales and in the disaster relief and recovery and the development phases.


In May 2004, the Humanitarian Information Unit of the U.S. Department of State hosted a Workshop on Systematic Population Estimation together with the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Academy of Sciences. The workshop facilitated discussion of approaches to population estimation in regions of the world generally lacking in data and prone to experiencing human-induced or natural humanitarian crises. The workshop resulted in recognition of the need for a more systematic U.S. government approach to subnational population estimation.

This study was an outgrowth of the information gathered at that workshop and was conducted at the request of the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), U.S. Census Bureau, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As a response to this request, the National Research Council (NRC) established the Committee on the Effective Use of Data, Methodologies, and Technologies to Estimate Subnational Populations at Risk to address the issues outlined in the study’s statement of task (Box 1.1). The committee consisted of 12 experts from academia; international organizations; and national bureaus with expertise in geography, demography, geographic information science and remote sensing, public health, natural disasters, environment and climate, sociology, humanitarian affairs, and economics; and individuals with experience in planning and delivering humanitarian assistance following natural and human-induced disasters (Appendix A).


A timely response and the delivery of humanitarian assistance in a disaster situation is challenging in and of itself (IFRC, 2005, 2006). Efficient coordination of various actors involved in disaster relief requires a well-

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