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close this bookHandbook for Emergencies - Second Edition (UNHCR, 1999, 414 p.)
close this folder18. Supplies and Transport
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentOverview
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentOrganization of the Supply Chain
View the documentSupplies
View the documentTransport
View the documentReception of Goods
View the documentStorage
View the documentStock Management
View the documentKey References
View the documentAnnexes


· Assess what is readily available on the local market: if locally available items are appropriate, make at least initial purchases locally;

· The basis for UNHCR procurement is competitive tendering;

· Standard specifications have been developed for common items;

· Certain emergency relief items are stockpiled centrally by UNHCR and can be accessed quickly in an emergency.


10. The basis for all UNHCR procurement is competitive tendering. This process is made easier and more efficient by standard specifications.

11. Headquarters' Supply and Transport Section gives advice and provides support on all procurement and logistics matters and is responsible for international procurement. Guidance on local purchase can also be sought from other UN organizations. Tendering procedures are described in Annex 2 to chapter 8 on implementing arrangements.

12. When drawing up tender documents and purchase orders it is essential that all specifications, quantity, required delivery, packaging and payment terms be clearly stated. Care must be taken to ensure that contract terms protect the rights and immunities of UNHCR. Requests for tenders should in any event include UNHCR's standard conditions of sale. Advance payments and cash transfers to suppliers must be authorized by Headquarters.

13. If procurement is to be undertaken by implementing partners on behalf of UNHCR, the principles of competitive bidding must be followed (see A Programme Management Handbook for UNHCR's Partners, section 4). UNHCR staff should monitor local and international procurement made by implementing partners for the UNHCR-funded programmes.

14. Care should be taken to avoid purchasing different qualities of the same items.

Local and International Procurement

15. If emergency relief items are available locally, compare prices where possible with the international market. Use catalogues or send local prices to the Supply and Transport Section in Headquarters who will advise on the most appropriate course of action. Assess what is readily available on the local market: if locally available items are appropriate, make at least initial purchases locally. At the same time however, consider the cost-effectiveness of continuing such local purchases beyond the initial phase of the emergency, compared with making those purchases internationally.

16. Local procurement can offer a number of advantages over international purchases. These could include:

i. lower prices;

ii. speed and flexibility of delivery;

iii. local acceptance;

iv. benefits and incentives to the local economy (particularly in areas affected by a large refugee influx).

17. However, the disadvantages of local purchase could include:

i. higher prices;

ii. inappropriate quality;

iii. sudden price increases (due to sudden heavy demand) on the local market, adversely affecting the local consumer population and causing resentment; iv. higher maintenance costs.

18. As a rule, no more than 15% would be an acceptable premium for prices of locally procured goods over the total delivered cost of internationally procured goods1.

1 IOM116/94 FOM120/94, UNHCR 14.12.94.

Local Procurement

19. When the capacity of the local market is limited, care must be taken to avoid price increases caused by organizations bidding against each other for the same supplies. Provided there is clear agreement on the needs, coordination of purchases and even combined orders among the organizations concerned should be possible.

International Procurement

20. UNHCR has entered into a number of long term supply agreements ("frame agreements") for a range of products. The purpose of these agreements is to ensure the availability of goods of a standard quality at competitive prices, and reduce total lead time. These items include blankets, plastic sheeting, essential drugs, kitchen sets, semi-collapsible jerry cans, and buckets. Support and office items supplied under frame agreements include light vehicles, vehicle tires and tubes, generators, ballistic armour, computer and telecommunications equipment, and some office equipment and supplies.

21. The UNHCR Catalogue of Most Frequently Purchased Items gives summary specifications, reference number, price (US$), country of origin, and, where relevant, production capacity, production lead times and estimated shipping times. It also includes a list of current frame agreements.

22. When requesting Headquarters to make a purchase, be sure to use both the reference number for a product, and the name and date of publication of the catalogue. If specifications are not available for the product wanted, inform the Supply and Transport Section of the purpose of the product and the context in which it will be used.

23. Bear in mind lead times for international purchase can be lengthy.

Emergency Stockpiles


Certain common relief items are stockpiled centrally by UNHCR, or by suppliers on behalf of UNHCR, and can be accessed quickly in an emergency.

The UNHCR stockpile includes the operations support items listed in the Catalogue of Emergency Response Resources (see Appendix 1). These items can be ordered through Headquarters.

25. Other UNHCR operations in the region may hold stocks that could be made available - these offices should be approached directly about the most urgent requirements.

26. UNICEF, WHO, WFP, the IFRCS and NGOs also maintain emergency stockpiles with supplies which may be available to UNHCR.

Specifications and Catalogues

27. There are a number of catalogues of products with detailed specifications. Using standard specifications (and frame agreements) is not intended to limit choice, but simplifies supply, and ensures better integration of equipment, spare parts and services. Generic specifications also make the procurement and tendering process fairer (e.g. comparing prices). Annex 1 gives detailed specifications of certain common relief items.

28. Catalogues of specifications include:

i. UNHCR Catalogue of Most Frequently Purchased Items. This is published annually by UNHCR's Supply and Transport Section, and distributed to all field offices. It gives brief specifications, price, and lead times.

ii. IAPSO Emergency Relief Items. This is a two volume catalogue published by the Inter Agency Procurement Services Office (IAPSO) of the United Nations. A large number of standard specifications adopted by UN are available in this catalogue, and there are additional IAPSO catalogues on other items (see key references).

iii. UNICEF Supply Catalogue. UNICEF also produces a large illustrated catalogue.

Considerations in Product Choice


29. UNHCR has a policy, also applicable in emergency situations, to ensure awareness and supply of environmentally friendlier products. Impact on the environment is considered an integral part of product quality. Where two or more suppliers are offering items which are substantially the same in terms of specifications, price, quality, and delivery time, the policy is to select a product whose manufacture, use and disposal is less harmful to the environment. For further details see Environmentally Friendlier Procurement Guidelines, UNHCR, 1997.


30. For shelter, local materials and methods of construction should be used where possible, combined with tarpaulins or polythene sheeting if necessary. Except for nomadic tribes, tents are not a satisfactory type of long-term shelter. They are, however, a valuable last resort in emergencies. Remember that tents may deteriorate rapidly if stored for any length of time, particularly if humidity is high.

In-Kind Donations

31. In-kind donations should always be evaluated against actual needs and cultural appropriateness. All offers for in-kind donations should be discussed with Donor Relations Services and the Supply and Transport Section in Headquarters before being accepted (see chapter on implementing arrangements). Particular attention should be given to packaging (which must meet transport requirements) and expiry dates of products offered.


32. Used clothing is often offered in emergencies but is generally an unsatisfactory way of meeting a need for clothing and should be discouraged. It often arrives in poor shape, dirty or badly sorted and will frequently be inappropriate for the customs of the refugees. Consider the alternative of purchasing particularly locally made clothes, and ensure that what is provided is culturally acceptable.