Cover Image
close this bookHandbook for Emergencies - Second Edition (UNHCR, 1999, 414 p.)
close this folder15. Food and Nutrition
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentOverview
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentOrganization of Food Support
View the documentNutritional Assessments
View the documentGeneral Feeding Programme
View the documentSelective Feeding Programmes
View the documentInfant Feeding and use of Milk Products
View the documentKey References
View the documentAnnexes

Organization of Food Support

· The World Food Programme (WFP), the food aid arm of the United Nations system, shares with UNHCR responsibility for meeting the food and nutritional needs of refugees;

· The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between WFP and UNHCR establishes the division of responsibilities and coordination mechanisms for refugee, returnee and internally displaced persons feeding operations;

· The aim of the food programme is to ensure the restoration and maintenance of sound nutritional status through a food ration that meets the assessed requirements, is nutritionally balanced, palatable and culturally acceptable;

· In most refugee emergencies a UNHCR food and nutrition co-ordinator should be appointed, who will have overall responsibility for co-ordination of all aspects of the food and nutrition programme;

· The refugees, and in particular refugee women, must be involved in the organization of these programmes;

· Simple nutrition education is an integral part of effective food support.

Figure 1 - The Complex causes of malnutrition

Adapted form: UNICEF Conceptual Framework of Malnutrition, 1997.

WFP/UNHCR Co-operation

The objective of WFP/UNHCR co-operation is the timely provision of the right amount of food, to ensure the restoration and maintenance of sound nutritional status.

8. The means to achieve this is through a food ration that meets the assessed requirements, is nutritionally balanced, palatable, culturally acceptable, and promotes gradual self-reliance of the beneficiaries. Essential to this objective is joint UNHCR/WFP planning, from the start of the emergency.

9. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) (see Appendix 3) exists between UNHCR and WFP covering cooperation in the provision of food aid. Under the terms of the MOU, WFP meets the emergency food needs of refugees, returnees, and, in specific situations, internally displaced persons, and provides associated logistic support. The terms of the MOU only apply when the beneficiaries in the country of asylum number more than 5,000, irrespective of their country of origin or their location within the country of asylum. UNHCR will meet the food needs of persons of its concern who are outside the scope of the MOU.

10. Within the scope of the MOU, WFP has the lead responsibility for mobilizing the following food commodities (whether for general or selective feeding programmes) and the resources to deliver them.

WFP resourced commodities include:

i. Cereals;

ii. Edible oils and fats;

iii. Pulses and other sources of protein;

iv. Blended food;

v. Iodized salt;

vi. Sugar;

vii. High energy biscuits.

11. WFP is also responsible for arrangements for milling cereals and transporting WFP commodities to agreed extended delivery points (EDPs), and for the operation and management of the EDPs. UNHCR is responsible for the transportation of all commodities from the EDP to the final destination and for final distribution.

12. Under the MOU, UNHCR is responsible for mobilizing and transporting complementary food commodities and for the provision of the necessary micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) when they cannot be met through the ration.

UNHCR resourced commodities include:

i. Local fresh foods;

ii. Spices and Other condiments;

iii. Tea;

iv. Dried milk;

v. Therapeutic milk.

13. UNHCR and WFP have developed a common set of guidelines for estimating food and nutritional needs in emergencies and in selective feeding programmes2. These guidelines should be used to assess the food needs for both the general and selective feeding programmes.

Extended delivery Points (EDP)

An EDP is the location at which WFP hands over a consignment of food to UNHCR or its implementing partner. WFP is responsible for the consignment and all costs incurred in moving and storing it, until UNHCR or its representative collects it from the EDP. In all cases the location of EDPs must be agreed jointly by UNHCR and WFP.

EDPs should be positioned to give cost effective and logistically practical delivery, while avoiding the imposition of undue hardships on the beneficiaries because of travel distance and/or difficult access. Whenever possible the EDP should be at the same place as the final distribution point, or, if not, then as near as possible to it. An EDP should be established for approximately every 10,000 beneficiaries.

1 WFP/UNHCR Guidelines for Estimating Food and Nutritional Needs in Emergencies, UNHCR/WFP, 1997.

2 UNHCR/WFP Guidelines for Selective feeding Programmes in Emergencies, WFP, UNHCR, Geneva, 1999.

Joint Assessment and Planning

14. UNHCR and WFP should carry out a joint assessment of the overall food, nutrition and related requirements in consultation with government authorities, operational partners and experts.

The first requirement is a knowledge of the numbers, nutritional status and food habits of the refugees.

Assessing nutritional status is discussed in detail below. The joint UNHCR/WFP assessment for the food assistance programme should cover the following:

Basic Information

i. Numbers and demography (see chapter 11 on registration);

ii. Current nutritional status;

iii. Milling possibilities;

iv. Food commodity preferences of the beneficiaries;

v. Capacity of the family to prepare, store, and process the food;

vi. Access to cooking fuel, utensils and distribution containers;

vii. Food availability now and over time;

viii. Availability of local food for purchase;

ix. Ease of access to food supplies;

x. Groups at risk - identify who and how many;

xi. Degree of and prospects for self-reliance;

xii. Coping strategies.

Other Important Information

i. Health status and health services;

ii. Environmental health risks;

iii. Community structure;

iv. Food distribution systems;

v. Socio-economic status;

vi. Availability of human resources;

vii. Logistics constraints;

viii. Storage capacity and quality;

ix. Delivery schedule of food and non-food commodities;

x. Other agencies' activities and assistance currently provided: quantity, items and frequency, and selective feeding programmes.

15. WFP and UNHCR should draw up plans covering: the number of beneficiaries, the composition of the food basket, ration size, duration of assistance, and directly related non-food inputs which may have an impact on the nutritional status of the beneficiaries (for example, cooking utensils, cooking fuel and milling equipment).

16. The main considerations to take into account when responding to food and nutritional needs of refugees are set out in figure 1.

17. Special consideration should be given to the needs of women, children and groups-at-risk. The views of the beneficiaries, especially those of women, should be sought. The proposed food assistance programme should also take into account the need to minimize the environmental impact of cooking the food provided.


18. A UNHCR coordinator should be appointed as focal point for food and nutritional issues. In smaller operations, either the programme officer or the logistics officer could be appointed as food coordinator. If technical expertize is not available initially within UNHCR then assistance should be sought from government nutritionists, UN agencies or NGOs.

19. The food and nutrition coordinator's responsibilities are to establish standard procedures, including procedures for general food distribution, coordinate feeding programmes, monitor and evaluate the feeding programmes, and ensure close coordination and integration with community services, health and other sectors. The coordinator should art as the focal point within UNHCR for coordination with WFP and NGO's. Where the food coordinator is not her/himself a nutrition specialist, an experienced nutritionist will also be needed to provide the food coordinator with the necessary technical advice.

Role of Refugees and Nutrition Education

20. The refugees must be involved from the start in the organization and management of the feeding programmes. Special training will be necessary for refugees.

21. The provision of simple nutrition education for the refugees is always necessary when unfamiliar foods or new methods of cooking cannot be avoided. This should be organized in conjunction with nutrition education activities and provide guidance on: proper infant feeding, feeding sick children, treating diarrhoea, basic food hygiene and preparing available foods for maximum nutritional benefit.

Cooking Fuel

22. Particular attention must be paid to the provision of cooking fuel and the control and management of the natural resources in the vicinity of the camp. Failure to deal with this can quickly lead to destruction of the vegetation in and around the site causing lasting damage to the environment, with direct effects on the health and well-being of refugees and local people and friction with the local population. Fuel needs and consumption vary considerably3-factors affecting the use of fuel include:

i. food preparation, cooking techniques, fuel type and preparation. Soaking beans prior to cooking, ensuring lids are used on pots, ensuring wood is dry and chopped, and that fires are put out after cooking - all these make considerable fuel savings and can be incorporated into environmental awareness raising and training programmes. Other steps to facilitate efficient fuel use are to ensure that the pots supplied have lids.

ii. type of stove. It may be possible to use local technology to modify existing types of wood or charcoal burning stoves in order to make them more fuel efficient. Simple improvements and local technologies are best. Note that the social and economic implications of a new technology are usually more important in determining whether it will be adopted than the effectiveness of the technology itself. The promotion and use of improved stoves must closely involve the refugees.

iii. type of food. Freshly harvested foods take less cooking time, also using milled rather than whole grain and using pre-cooked food make considerable fuel savings. The environmental implications of the food basket need to be taken into account with WFP.

iv. availability (or "price") of fuel itself. This is often the most significant factor affecting per capita fuel consumption. The provision of fuel wood and managing and controlling the use of natural resources around a refugee camp is discussed further in chapter 12 on site planning.

3 Average fuel-wood consumption per person per day in different refugee camps has varied from 0.9 kg to 4kg.