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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

Components of Distribution Systems

General Considerations

6. The ideal distribution system should be safe and easily accessible to the intended beneficiaries.

Safe: Distribution should be organized in such a way that the system is safe for all who use it. Particular attention should be given to women and the vulnerable;

Accessible: Distribution points should be close to where people live and located so that the access of particular groups is not restricted. The timing of distributions should suit the beneficiaries.

7. The refugees themselves can provide the most effective monitoring and control of the distribution system. In order to do this they must be informed as to the type and quantity of commodities to be distributed and method and timing to be used.

A system needs to be put in place whereby the refugees can be continuously informed of changes in the quantity, type or method Of distributions.

8. In the early stages of a new operation, particularly in large emergencies, effective control over distribution may not be possible. However, from the start, each action taken should contribute to a process whereby control by UNHCR is progressively established. For example the provision of plastic sheeting, tents and other shelter material is very important because it reduces the mobility of the population. Once it is issued, the population can settle and commodity distribution and other services will be easier to organize.

Refugee Involvement

9. Ensure the refugees are well informed (both women and men). They must know what they should receive, how much, when and how. This information should come to them directly rather than through their leadership.

The refugees should be able to see the distribution process for themselves as they are the best monitors and controllers of the process.

Ensure that the refugees participate at all levels of the distribution process. However, be aware of the dangers of non-representational leadership (see chapter 7 on coordination and site level organisation).

10. Irregularities in the distribution cycle undermine the confidence of the beneficiaries and increase their need to circumvent the system.

Logistical Considerations

11. In camps, the distribution system should allow beneficiaries to collect rations close to where they live (not more than 5 km away) and at regular monthly intervals. For dispersed populations refugees should not have to travel more than 5 to 10 km to distribution sites.

12. In the case of food distribution, it is usually preferable to distribute dry uncooked rations in bulk. Avoid mass cooked food distribution for the general ration (see chapter 15 on food and nutrition).

Managerial Considerations

13. Distributing relief commodities involves several organizations and many individuals, for example, the government, WFP and NGOs. Co-ordination structures must be put in place, including regular meetings of all interested parties. The frequency of these meetings will depend on the situation. At the start of an emergency daily meetings will probably be needed. As the situation normalizes the frequency of meetings can be reduced to one per month.

14. It is important to understand the roles and responsibilities of the main actors involved at various stages of commodity distribution. In the case of food distribution the modalities of distribution as well as the reporting requirements are set out in a tripartite agreement between UNHCR, WFP and the implementing partner. The respective roles of UNHCR and WFP in relation to food aid are set out in their Memorandum of Understanding (Appendix 3). See Chapter 15 on food and nutrition for more information on food distribution and on of the role of WFP.

15. The family, as a basic social unit, is the target of distribution. This applies to food and non-food items. Providing assistance to and through families is effective as the basis for the distribution system and also supports the family unit. However this does not mean that the ration has to be handed to each family directly. In some situations distribution can be more effective through groups of families or other community structures.

16. Avoid payment in kind to distribution workers. It makes monitoring difficult and, in times of shortages, vulnerable people may be deprived of commodities in order to pay staff.

17. In camps, aim to have at least 1 distribution site per 20,000 refugees.

18. Plan to have a minimum of 2 distribution staff per 1,000 beneficiaries.