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close this bookHandbook for Emergencies - Second Edition (UNHCR, 1999, 414 p.)
close this folder13. Commodity Distribution
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentOverview
View the documentWhen to start distribution
View the documentChoosing a Commodity Distribution System
View the documentComponents of Distribution Systems
View the documentThe Role of Refugee Women
View the documentMonitoring
View the documentKey References

Choosing a Commodity Distribution System

3. Two basic issues are:

i. How much responsibility should be given to the refugees themselves; and,

ii. What resources are available to set up and run the system (including time, space, experienced staff as well as financial resources (see Table 1).

4. There are three broad categories of distribution system (see Table 1). Note that the head of family can either be a woman or a man.

Distribution systems can be classified according to who receives the commodities.

5. There will probably be a period in the early stages of an emergency when it will not be possible to register or issue ration cards. However, effective distribution of commodities is possible without ration cards.

Table 1 - Commodity Distribution Systems

Group Leadership

Groups of Heads of Family

Individual Heads of Family

System Description

Commodities are given in bulk to
a representative of a large group
of beneficiaries who further
divides it among the group.

All of the commodities for the
group of families are handed
over to a representative of the
group. The group usually con-
sists of about 20 heads of family.
The commodities are then im-
mediately redistributed to the
individual family heads by the

Commodities are handed over
directly to each family head.

Types of situation in which these systems have been used

· Early days of an emergency.
· Mass influx of refugees.
· No formal registration.
· Large populations.

· When the population is
comparatively stable, and/or
have ration cards.
· Where the beneficiaries are
living in camps.
· Where the population is
comparatively homogeneous.

· When the population is
comparatively stable, and/or
have ration cards.
· Where the beneficiaries are
living in camps, settlements
or integrated within the local

Amount of resources needed increases

Degree of self regulation by refugees increases