Cover Image
close this bookCommodity Distribution, A Practical Guide for Field Staff (United Nations High Commission for Refugee, 1997, 77 p.)
close this folderI. Overview
View the document1.1 Definition of distribution
View the document1.3 Food and non-food items
View the document1.4 Programme planning questions

1.1 Definition of distribution

Distribution is the hand-over of commodities to the intended beneficiaries, fairly, according to specified rations, selection criteria and priorities. Distribution is the process during which control over the commodity passes to the intended beneficiaries.

For the purposes of this guide the term distribution does NOT include the process by which commodities are procured, nor the process of transportation, storage and handling, except at the final handover point.

The objective of UNHCR distribution systems is to provide material assistance to and through families, respecting the guiding principles of humanitarian action. Thus, the distribution system should aim to support the family as the most effective coping structure. Only in exceptional circumstances, and for short periods, should the focus of assistance move from the family level to individuals within the family.

“The family is the basic social unit in almost all societies. It plays a key role in meeting basic needs and solving the problems of individuals. Strengthening families will improve the ability of refugees to take care of themselves”.

From Refugee Emergencies A community-based approach, UNHCR Geneva 1996

Distribution should enable families to junction as the basic social unit. Persons outside families must, of course, also be assisted through the distribution system. This group often includes unaccompanied minors, single women, unsupported elderly and young men. Often, efforts are made to build household groups from these individuals to facilitate the provision of shelter and other services and commodity distribution itself.

Getting the commodities to families does not necessarily mean handing the commodities directly to the head of the family. You may decide to channel the commodities through existing community structures, leaders etc, or structures which you help to create; groups of families, women family representatives etc.



Contingency planning.
Joint plans of action.
Establishment of the number of food aid beneficiaries, in consultation with the host Government.
Assessment of food aid needs (in consultation with the host Government).
Establishment of the food basket.
Designation of the implementing partner responsible for food distribution.
Establishment of effective food aid coordination mechanisms.
Monitoring and reporting on distribution of all food aid commodities.
Working out joint workplans under the MOU framework.
Promotion of self reliance.


Management and equitable distribution of relief commodities using the appropriate distribution system.
Dissemination of information to refugee population.
Ensuring maximum refugee participation.
Reporting to UNHCR (and simultaneously to WFP, in the case of food distribution) on quality, quantity and impact of commodity distributions. The specific reporting requirements for each operation will be specified in agreements with the implementing partner.