Cover Image
close this bookCommodity Distribution, A Practical Guide for Field Staff (United Nations High Commission for Refugee, 1997, 77 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentPurpose of this guide and how to use it
View the documentGlossary
View the documentKey Points
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
close this folderII. GETTING STARTED
View the document(introduction...)
View the document2.3 Beneficiary ration/registration cards/kits4
View the document2.4 By whom
View the document2.5 Where - How many distribution points, their location
View the document2.7 Equipment for distribution
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)
View the document4.1 Refugee participation
View the document4.2 The leadership may not truly represent the refugees
View the document4.3 Refugee committees
View the document4.5 Information to all the beneficiaries, the crucial factor
View the documentV. MANAGEMENT
close this folderVI. SPECIAL ISSUES
View the document6.1 Common questions
View the document6.2 How much to distribute when numbers are not agreed?
View the document6.3 When you do not have enough to go around
View the document6.4 Trading rations
View the document6.6 Payment in kind
View the document6.7 Retroactive distribution
View the document6.8 Sacks and other empty containers
close this folderAnnex 1 - Reporting on Food Distribution
View the document1. Food Distribution Monitoring Report (Food 1)
close this folderAnnex 2 - Reporting on Non-Food Items Distribution
View the document1. Non-Food Item Distribution Report (NFI. 1)
close this folderAnnex 3 - Reporting on Food Distribution
View the documentWorksheet for on Site Food Distribution Monitoring Report
View the documentExplanatory Notes
View the documentAnnex 4 - Household Monitoring Report
close this folderAnnex 5 - Post Distribution Monitoring
View the documentMarket Survey Report Form
View the documentAnnex 6 - Bibliography

3.5 How to distribute through groups of heads of families (one method)


The commodities for the group of families are handed over to a representative of the group by the implementing agency staff.

The commodities are then re-distributed to the individual family heads by the group representative.


When people are settled.

When formal registration is done and cards are available.

Homogeneous groups (same tribe, culture,...)

Used in

Large camps, can be used in smaller camps.

There are two ways in which this can be implemented.

1. Distribution to groups of families of the same size (preferable)


2. Distribution to groups containing different family size.

1. Distribution to groups of families of the same size

Organise families into groups

Request refugees to organise themselves in groups of 206 heads of family (HOF), each having a family ration card. Each group of 20 comprises families of the same size. Head of families can be women or men. For example one group would have heads of family size 2, another of family size 3 etc. You may decide not to allow family size 1 so as to prevent families splitting up in order to maximise their allocation of non-food items. All those claiming to be alone and be of family size 1 should be asked to join together with others in the same situation to form households of 2 or 3 persons (depending on what minimum you decide). These groups are maintained for future distributions.

6 20 is used here as an indicative size, actual circumstances may demand bigger or smaller groups, it is usually better to keep groups small, not more than 50 families per group.

Make sure that the size of the group remains relatively small. This allows for easier self monitoring by the beneficiaries.

Each group of 20 selects a representative, who can be a woman or a man. Having groups of the same family size means that each household should receive the same quantity. It will be easier for all to see if some households are being more or less favoured than others. It also makes life easier for the distribution staff who do not have to make a different calculation as to quantity for each household.

Divide the Camp into Zones

In the case of large populations it may be useful to divide the camp into zones (or blocks). Within each zone, groups of families of the same size are formed by the refugees. It is recommended to prepare a list (computerised) per group indicating name of HOF, card numbers and family size.

A distribution enclosure is constructed at each distribution site, see Fig 1.


Distribution day

Pre-position supplies

Sufficient commodities for the distribution are pre-positioned in the distribution enclosure the day before distribution. The quantities are based on prior calculations considering number of beneficiaries to be served and the ration agreed upon. Up to 5% extra commodities should be pre-positioned to allow for damages and short-weight.

Inform the beneficiaries

A signboard is posted, in advance, outside each distribution point advising the quantities of commodities to be received according to family size. The PA system should also announce this.

The beneficiaries assign a representative within each group who, on the day of distribution, collects the cards of all HOF within the group.

The group representative collects the commodities

The group representative goes to the counter corresponding to her family size. A checker retrieves the cards and verifies them against her list. Cards are punched and the group representative signs for receipt against her name on the list.

The commodities are handed over to the group representative who, together with some assistants from her group, carries them to the distribution area where all the HOF of the group are waiting.

Each group member receives the same quantity

The actual handing over of the commodities to the HOF takes place with the participation of all group members. The principle is that every group member (HOF) has to receive the same quantity, since all the families are of the same size. This puts the responsibility for fair distribution in the hands of the refugees themselves. The division of the commodities should take place in full view of the family heads so that all can see that everyone receives the same amount.

While the distribution within the group is going on, monitoring is done by the staff of the implementing agency. This distribution system also allows for on-site food basket monitoring.


Have more distribution points for those family size groups which are most frequent (e.g. groups 3 and 4). However, distribute to one family size at a time.

Have one combined counter for family size groups that are less frequent (e.g. combine size 9 and 10)

In cases where distribution takes place over several days, designate particular group sizes for particular days, e.g. mix groups of frequent family size with groups of less frequent size: e.g. day one: family size 2 and 5, and so on.

2. Distribution to groups containing different family size

Sometimes it may be difficult to organise the families into groups of the same family size. Same family size groups do not follow normal social groupings and there may be resistance from refugees to joining with other families of the same size who are strangers to them. It may be easier to form groups of families from pre-existing structures following the administrative or social organization coming from the refugee country of origin. This can allow the refugee community to maintain security and social aggregation. People from the same place in the country of origin will know each other and be able to self-monitor the distribution and prevent ‘infiltrators’ from joining the group. Prior to complete registration, it is faster to organise than by same family size.

Experience shows, however, that distribution to groups of the same family size has more advantages in the long run.