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close this bookCommodity Distribution, A Practical Guide for Field Staff (United Nations High Commission for Refugee, 1997, 77 p.)
View the document3.1 The framework - an overview
View the document3.2 Advantages and disadvantages of the three categories of distribution
View the document3.3 Choosing the system
View the document3.5 How to distribute through groups of heads of families (one method)
View the document3.6 How to distribute through individual heads of family (three methods)

3.3 Choosing the system

Two basic questions which will help you to choose a system are: how much responsibility is it appropriate to give to the refugees themselves? How much resources do you have available to set up and run the system? (refer to Fig A). Resources include time, space, experienced staff as well as financial resources.

In case of food distribution the modalities of distribution as well as the reporting requirements will be set out in a tripartite agreement between UNHCR, WFP and the implementing partner.


Distribution day

a. Commodities are moved to the distribution point on the morning of the distribution.

b. The group representatives are called one by one to collect the commodities. The distribution agency uses its own staff to call up the group representatives using lists previously prepared.

c. Each group representative will come forward with a pre-arranged number of porters from the group. She/he will sign to acknowledge receipt of the quantity of the commodity. The distribution agency will have divided the commodities into separate piles by type and will have appointed adequate staff based on the quantity of the commodities. The staff will be responsible for handing over these commodities to the porters. The amount of commodities handed over is calculated as (ration/person/day) × (no. of people in the group) × (no. of days)

d. The representative and the porters will leave the distribution site and carry the commodities to a place nearby where the group's population is waiting for them. There, the group representative will use the name list of beneficiaries and will call them one by one to collect their share.

(Make sure that the self-distribution is carried out at a place to which you have access and where it can be monitored.)

If the group is a very large one, the representative will further share the commodities received among smaller groups. The final stage will be the distribution to individual families.

For sharing, the representatives will use their own scoops or utensils taken from their cooking sets.

e. The distributing agency should have monitors who will circulate among the groups.


Security is an important consideration for this method of distribution.

Security problems are more likely to occur in the afternoon, when people are getting tired of waiting and are afraid that commodities will run out before their turn comes. Try to distribute quickly, with no long delays.

Crowd control staff should be a mix of beneficiary representatives and agency staff, preferably those able to speak the refugee language. Where possible staff should not be paid in kind (remember commodities could be scarce at the early stage of the emergency).

Another element, important for crowd control, is to make sure that the commodities are unloaded in a place away from the crowd of beneficiaries. An area of minimum 50 × 50 m is required. The waiting beneficiaries should be at least 20 m from the bulk of commodities.

The area should have boundaries. If there is not time or resources enough to build fences then stones, ropes etc. should be used to delimit the area. Crowd control staff should surround the area and be close to the stock of commodities.

How to implement for dispersed populations in towns, villages

Geographical division

The country is sub-divided into regions based on existing administrative boundaries. A needs assessment is made for each of these areas. These assessments result in the establishment of food and non-food items targets for each area.


Together with the local authorities in each area, establish categories of individuals prioritised in regard to their need for assistance. Categories include sick, elderly, handicapped and others.


The commodities are transported to a central warehouse in the region by UNHCR (or WFP in the case of food) where they are handed over to the local authorities. When the total amount available for that month is known, a distribution plan is worked out jointly between UNHCR and the authorities. Information on the quantity of commodities to be distributed is made available to the beneficiaries.


Commodities are transported by the local authorities from the regional warehouse to distribution points in towns and villages from which the beneficiaries collect their rations.