|Commodity Distribution, A Practical Guide for Field Staff (United Nations High Commission for Refugee, 1997, 77 p.)|
|II. GETTING STARTED|
As a general rule, it is best to have the distribution points close to the beneficiaries and located in such a way as to minimise the numbers of people who attend any one distribution point at any one time. This makes it easier for them to carry the commodities home (a typical one month food ration for a family of 5 can weigh 75 kg), reduces their exposure to theft and harassment and minimises the time spent away from home - a particularly important consideration in female headed households. For dispersed populations, refugees should not have to travel more than a maximum of 10 km to distribution points.
In selecting distribution points, factors affecting women's access should be taken into consideration, e.g. physical security of women may be threatened if they have to pass through a military/police camp; traveling a long distance may also be threatening, especially if women have to travel while it is dark.
Minimising the number of beneficiaries at any one distribution point is important for crowd control reasons. Fewer people also helps to ensure fairness in the distribution - everyone can see what everyone else is getting. For camp situations you should aim to have at least 1 distribution site per 20,000 people.
Organise the distributions so that the number attending the site at any given time is as low as possible.
The earliest possible distribution of shelter material will help to organise the population
The provision of plastic sheeting, tents and other shelter materials is very important for the structuring of refugee sites. The distribution of shelter material reduces the movement of the population. Once shelter material has been issued the population can settle. Even if full scale site planning is not yet possible you can use the distribution of shelter material to begin a rough lay-out of the site, organising refugees into blocks and using this as an incentive for people to move from areas which could be used for distributions. Keep in mind that populations can increase and it is wise to plan for more distribution sites than are currently needed to allow for increases. In situations where people have moved on to a site in an unplanned way, it is better to rearrange them without delay if they are occupying areas which are needed for distribution. This will create short term problems, but the alternative might be long-term problems and lasting inefficiencies.
How often, distribution cycles
There is usually a single distribution of the main non-food items, e.g. shelter material, kitchen sets, blankets. Timing of the distribution cycle is dependent on food distributions for which there is, normally, a continuing need.
The distribution cycle should be:
1. Predictable and known to the refugees.
2. Set so as to ensure simultaneous distribution in neighbouring camps/communities.
Irregularities in the distribution cycle undermines the confidence of the beneficiaries and increases their need to circumvent the system.
Shorter intervals between distributions allows greater flexibility in adjusting the ration size to compensate for delayed deliveries/shipments. Scarce commodities can be included periodically in more frequently distributed smaller rations, rather than waiting until enough is on hand for larger, less frequent, distribution. Smaller quantities take less time to distribute and are easier to carry home. Low bulk items such as sugar or salt might be distributed less frequently.
Longer intervals between distribution frequently lead to greater delays, as more commodities must be pre-positioned prior to distribution. However, longer intervals may suit some people better, as they will travel at less frequent intervals to collect rations. The weight of the ration and distance from site to household and household level storage capacities are important factors to consider. Long intervals with relatively large amount of commodities distributed each time may make it more likely that refugees will sell commodities, particularly when whole sacks or other containers of food are distributed.