KARACHI, 12 August 2008 (IRIN) - The sight of humanitarian assessment teams moving through calamity-hit villages and punching data into small, hand-held computers as they interview villagers may soon become routine in Pakistan.

An innovative new survey methodology, the Multi-cluster Rapid Assessment Mechanism (McRAM), assesses the immediate relief needs of communities affected by humanitarian emergencies.

An integrated questionnaire is used, with trained enumerators entering the results into hand-held computers, known as Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs).

Separate groups of men and women in a village complete the questionnaires. Once this process is completed, it is hoped the data - which is instantly transferred to a centralised computer using email or a mobile phone, and analysed - will enable the immediate needs of a specific community (eg resulting from sickness in a village hit by floods) to be identified.

"When a disaster strikes a community, the McRAM envisions pre-trained teams of enumerators dispatched as soon as possible to collect the information necessary to plan an initial response," Sandie Walton-Ellery, the McRAM project coordinator, told IRIN.

"Since data is collected electronically on PDAs, it can be analysed within days, so UN agencies and their partners can quickly begin the work of bringing relief to affected people," Walton-Ellery said.