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

1.4 Programme planning questions

1.4.1 Do you know the needs?

Before designing your distribution system it is assumed that a needs assessment has taken place, that you have decided which food and non-food items will be distributed, in what quantity and to whom. The assessment should consider the needs of the specific groups within the population (women, at risk groups) as well as of the population as a whole. For example, the physical dangers that the collection of firewood sometimes involves for women should be taken into consideration in prioritising the commodities.

The needs, and your assessment of them, will change with time, but at any given time it is assumed that you will have reached a consensus with key partners as to what they are.1

1.4.2 Do you know the refugees?

Each refugee group has its own characteristics. Experience shows that it is essential to find out specific information concerning every distinct refugee group in order to provide appropriate services efficiently. Before designing a distribution system you must have specific information on the refugees, including on the population composition, gender and age, division of labour, access to and control of resources. Remember that the role of children may also have changed as a result of flight. A good framework for this, and for programme planning in general, is provided in the UNHCR POP Handbook.2

2 See People-Oriented Planning at Work - Using POP to Improve UNHCR Programming, UNHCR Geneva 1994.

UNHCR recognises that women have a key role in the health and well-being of their families and that distribution systems should support rather than undermine that role by ensuring their equitable access to relief commodities. While such access may be ensured, in some circumstances, by women receiving the commodities directly or being responsible for the actual distribution, this must be verified, not assumed.

1.4.3 Do you know the host government's policy?

It is important to know the policy of the host government regarding refugees. For example, land use, type of settlement, local economy, job opportunities and other related issues may influence the type of distribution system and selection of commodities.

1.4.4 Do you know UNHCR's policy?

The commodity distribution systems and selected commodities should be in line with the general programming policies of UNHCR in the host country and for the particular group or refugees. The Country Operation Plan should provide a guide to country specific policies. In addition to this, several key documents outline UNHCR's general policies. (See Bibliography, Annex 6)

1.4.5 How much do you communicate with the beneficiaries?

Experience has shown that in order to provide a sound basis for a distribution system, it is essential that the beneficiaries know what are their entitlements and know how the distribution system is supposed to work. Normally there will be many times more beneficiaries than UNHCR or distribution agency staff, and the beneficiaries have the capacity to be extremely effective monitors of the distribution system. However they can only do this if they are well informed. Any well designed distribution system must provide a way to keep refugees continuously and directly informed (i.e. not just through the refugee leadership).