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  • All distribution should be fair, equitable, regular, accountable, and transparent. Beneficiaries should know the rations they are entitled to, the method of distribution, and the distribution schedule. The more transparent the system, the fewer the opportunities for abuse leading to unfair distribution practices. Those who distribute should be accountable to the beneficiaries as well as to the grant founders.
  • All distributions involve coordination, logistics, actual distribution, monitoring, and reporting, which are carried out by a range of actors; including the government, UN agencies, NGOs, local partners and the beneficiaries. Good management therefore requires appropriate allocation of responsibilities between the different actors, and authority and decision-making must be clearly defined.
  • A single controlling authority should be responsible for policy matters, determining overall priorities. Mechanisms for information exchange and coordination between all actors must be well planned. Coordination committees composed of all major actors are necessary both at national level for policy and planning, and in major operational areas for operational decisions.
  • There are common elements in the implementation, which include the estimation of beneficiary numbers, selecting the type of recipients, type of beneficiary documents, determining the physical organization of food distribution, as well as monitoring.
  • Information on the beneficiary population is essential for designing a distribution system. No food distribution can start without an estimate of the size of the population. The size of the population also influences the choice of recipient and the physical organization of the distribution, such as the number of distribution points. Knowledge of the socio-political context is crucial in deciding who manages the distribution, or who should be the recipient of aid, and whether registration by beneficiaries is adequate.
  • Beneficiary participation should be encouraged, which can vary from programs where the community manages the entire program or parts of it. Committees are often recommended to provide a forum for discussion or information on the distribution.
  • Access and Protection matters must to be consider at any stage of the distribution process, form the design of the intervention to the actual handover to beneficiaries, allocating resources and means to these matters. They should be part of the evaluation and reports.




When assisting an affected population, delivery of physical goods is not the only possible response. Based on needs, different transfer modalities can be used:


Cash/ Voucher interventions has unique considerations to be taken into account that are not the purpose of this guide. Information about Cash and Voucher Assistance (CVA) can be found through The Cash Learning Partnership (CaLP) network.




Depending on who manage the distribution, we can find three different methodologies, that could differ on the approach, the means and objectives, while sharing the same goal, to save lives and alleviate the suffering of the crisis affected population. The information in this guide, focused on the physical distribution, can be used by all the possible actors involved in a distribution, but is though with assumption that the distribution is managed by an agency or one of its partners (NGO, governmental, local or international).

 Government-managed Managed Distribution

Mainly in the case of Food, the government at different levels may be the receptor and distributor to affected communities or families making use or coordinating with local government or public distribution systems. For agencies involved in distribution,  “maximum use should be made of existing organizations and structures within the affected localities, with adaptations and redeployment as necessary” (WFP, 1991). However, Government intervention frequently involves mechanisms for price stabilization, such as sales of food through public distribution systems or subsidized food or NFI sales through fair price shops than large-scale free distribution which usually is distributed to selected vulnerable groups through schools, social welfare, clinics, etc.

The extent of government involvement in relief operations varies considerably from one emergency situation to another. Whereas in some countries the emergency response could be entirely in the hands of the government, in many others, with less capacity the role of government has often been limited to coordination.

Community-managed Managed Distribution

A variety of distribution methods have been termed community-managed distribution. In some, all aspects of food distribution are managed by the community, whereas in others, the community participates but only manages part of the program.

  • In entirely community managed programs, traditional leaders register beneficiaries and distribute food to families according to their perception of need.
  • In partly community managed programs, community representatives manage one aspect of the program or participate through committees. For example, an agency may register beneficiaries and monitor, whilst the community distributes. Alternatively, community representatives register beneficiaries and the agency distributes. Committees may participate in planning and monitoring the distribution.

Agency-managed distribution Managed Distribution

Commodities distribution direct to families or individuals by an agency or a trusted partner organization. Agency-managed distribution requires registration of beneficiary families, sometimes limited to beneficiary lists, but often linked with the issuing of ration cards. A family member will  collect the ration at a distribution site, where the family ration is weighed, measured or counted by agency staff, after presentation and verification of the ration card.

Many variations on agency-managed distribution systems are possible. In the absence of a registration, a compromise between what is ideal and what is possible may have to be made.

Types of



The context in which each distribution takes place, the geographic and cultural factors, the type of emergency, the vulnerabilities present in the population, as well as the products to be distributed and the own resources available, among other factors, involve decisions on the choice of the type of distribution that best suits to achieve the objectives.

By set up

Mobile distribution

Portable distribution setups usually assembled out of vehicles to assist in multiple locations or areas without a permanent location.

Example: Open areas designed with ropes, trucks

Fixed distribution

Permanent or Semi-permanent distribution locations where basic infrastructure will be available for distributions.

Examples: MSUs, Community Centers

By kind of commodity

Recurrent Distribution

The same population is served several times by the same pool of commodities in a well-defined period of time

Example: Food distribution

Single Distribution

A group of people or location is served once for the distribution of a specific type of supplies.

Examples: NFIs, vaccination

By targeted population

Blanket Distribution

In certain geographical locations, all populations within a specific group will receive supplies.

Example: Any children of school age receive educational supplies.

Conditional Distribution

Beneficiaries are selected by specific criteria generally based on vulnerability and needs.

Examples: Families with three or more children receive a complementary mosquito net.

Distribution Systems

Distribution systems can be classified according to whom the commodities are given. There are three broad categories of distribution system.

To whom

System Description

Type of situation in which these systems have been used



Prerequisites for Success

Community leaders.

Commodities are given in bulk to a representative of a group of beneficiaries who further divide it among the group.

Early days of an emergency. Mass influx of refugees.
No formal registration.
Large populations.

  • Limited staff needed
  • Community leadership structures already in place. The beneficiaries themselves can act as monitors of the distribution process.
  • Can be used in first stages of a large influx with limited space for distribution.
  • Can be implemented without registration or ration cards.
  • Distribution is relatively quick to get started.

  • Easy for community leadership and/or the 'strongest' to abuse their position and discriminate against parts of the population.
  • There may be many levels of re-distribution, from the leadership to many layers of "sub-leaders" until it reaches the individual household.
  • Distribution may not be equal. Based on the communities’ own norms, certain groups or individuals (not at risk) may receive more than others.
  • Can be difficult for the most at risk to receive their share.
  • Lack of control on beneficiaries’ figures.
  • Difficulty in monitoring the distribution.
  • If women are not properly represented in the leadership, they may have difficulty of access.
  • Good understanding of the social and cultural dynamics.
  • Spot checks and monitoring to ensure that distribution is equitable.
  • A strong information system.
  • An effective complaint mechanism.

Group of heads of family representative.

All of the commodities for the group of families are handed over to a representative of the group. The commodities are then immediately redistributed to the individual family heads by the representatives.

When people are settled. When registration is done and ration cards are available. Homogeneous groups.
Can be used in camps with small or large populations.

  • Promotes social interaction within the refugee community and enhances social adjustment to the new situation and environment.
  • Influence over the selection of leaders, or introduce new community leadership structures, ensure the representation of women etc.
  • Shares responsibility for distribution with the beneficiaries.
  • The beneficiaries themselves act as monitors of the distribution process.
  • Requires a small number of distribution staff
  • Quick implementation.
  • Security problems related to crowd control are minimized by the presence of the family group representatives.
  • Needs registration and substantial administration to organize family groups
  • An extensive information campaign is needed.
  • Needs homogeneous group of beneficiaries
  • Needs reliable and verified population figures
  • Abuses by family group representatives may happen.
  • Monitoring of the final re-distribution within the groups is needed when this is taking place away from the agency distribution site.
  • Heads of groups must be chosen by the community.
  • Spot checks and monitoring to ensure that distribution is equitable.
  • A strong information system.
  • Effective complaint mechanism(s).

Individual heads of family.

Commodities are handed over directly to each family head.

Settled population.
Registered population. Beneficiaries living in camps, settlements or integrated within the local population.

  • Retain control over the whole delivery process right to family level. This may be important in situations where there are inadequate community structures.
  • Makes it possible to target at risk groups.
  • Transparency.
  • Commodities reach the beneficiaries directly.
  • Easy to monitor that female headed households, and vulnerable families have proper access.
  • Very staff intensive.
  • Needs a lot of infrastructure.
  • Needs registration and a substantial administration.
  • Takes away most of the responsibility for distribution from the beneficiaries themselves.
  • Can be difficult for the beneficiaries themselves to act as monitors of the distribution process.
  • Not applicable in early stages of an emergency
  • Scooping could prove difficult to monitor.
  • Registration and entitlement cards.
  • Effective complaint mechanism(s).

Adapted from Commodity Distribution, UNHCR

Distributing agencies should always ensure that those who lack the traditional family structures (e.g., unaccompanied minors, unsupported elderly or disabled people) also receive assistance, and should establish a distribution system that can accommodate this. This might mean grouping vulnerable people into “households” for the purposes of receiving assistance.




  • ready-made shelter (tents,...),
  • material to build a shelter (ex. plastic sheeting, rope,...),
  • material to rehabilitate existing shelters (ex. saw, nails, hammer,... )
  • cleaning-up kit (material to clean/clear existing shelters)

Bedding equipment

  • mosquito nets
  • bed linen and blanket
  • mats or mattress
  • bed

Kitchen utensils

  • stove for cooking
  • jerrycan to carry/stock water
  • pots
  • plates and cutlery
  • glasses and cups
  • plastic basin

Hygiene material

  • soap and shampoo
  • toothbrush and toothpaste
  • hand towel
  • soap for laundry
  • razor and shaving cream
  • comb, brush
  • sanitary towels and baby diapers
  • toilet paper
  • anal cleansing recipient (in countries where toilet paper is not used)
  • children’s potties


  • globes
  • winter hats
  • scarves
  • shoes
  • coats

Heating and

lighting equipment

  • stove for heating
  • fuel
  • oil lamp


Depending on the moment, the type of emergency or the logistical capacities, the kits can be build following two different strategies.

Built as…




Standard Kits


Carefully designed and prepared in advance, the standard kits were developed based on past experience. A quantity of these kits is usually available in the emergency stock, ready to be deploy in the first hours of an emergency. 

Quick response:

-  Ready to use, no assembly needed

-  Pre-positioned (locally, regionally or international)

Not always adapted to local customs

(People may find themselves with material they do not know how to use, and therefore the reason for distributing the articles is not covered)

Quality guarantee; the items have been subjected to a strict procedure including market survey, tender, ...

Some articles may turn out to be culturally inappropriate

Some items are not essential, so people will sell them on the local market

Kits locally assembled


They are manufactured locally, which means for the mission a big job to identify the suppliers, assemble and pack. Their main advantage is that they can better meet the needs of the population taking into account current requirements and cultural habits.

Highly customizable in terms of items included, packaging and labeling.

Time consuming: Search for suppliers for the various items (market survey, tender,...) Assemblage of the kits

More economical: no transportation costs

No guarantee of quality

Adapted to local customs

No guarantee of quick supply in case of emergency

Beneficiaries are more likely to used the item

Often not possible to find all the items locally

Adapted from Pocket guide NFI Distribution, MSF


  • To meet an urgent need before the kits are available (e.g., blankets in a cold country),.
  • To meet a specific need (e.g., mosquito nets during a malaria outbreak, soap during cholera outbreaks, ..).)
  • To meet the needs of vulnerable groups (disabled, elderly, …).
  • To complete a standard kit distribution.

 Kitted and NFI items can be linked to the central emergency prepositioning strategy utilized by aid agencies.


  • Secure, to ensure that items are not stolen or misappropriated
  • Near to water points and constructed with separate latrines for men and women
  • Big enough for on-site commodity storage and shelter for queuing during delays or rain
  • Near to rest facilities for distribution workers
  • Constructed near to vegetation or trees, which provide shade and act as windbreaks
  • Provided with chairs or benches for persons unable to stand in line.
  • Be safe for women and children

 People with Specific Needs (PSN)


  • Remove physical barriers
  • Prepare fast track queues and dedicated waiting areas
  • Train the staff and given resources to assist PSN
  • Facilitate transportation of heavy or cumbersome items from the distribution site back to individual homes with wheel barrows, donkey carts, or community support groups

Site Lay



The lay out composition will depend on factors including the available terrain, the weather forecasted for the distribution day, the distribution system, the size of the affected population, the available permanent structures. Every distribution site must have:


  • A clearly delineated distribution space;
  • Different lines for men and women if needed and when culturally appropriate;
  • A simple structure that facilitates the flow of beneficiaries through the distribution point; progressively organize people into single lines
  • The registration stage can be used to organize the beneficiaries according to the supply types (e.g., grouping different family sizes)
  • A one way flow of beneficiaries: avoid flows of people that overlap or the need to have people moving against the natural flow of distribution.
  • Clear space between where people are waiting and the stacks of commodities for distribution;
  • The waiting and registration area should have both shade and the presence of facilities in case beneficiaries have to wait for extended periods of time. Ideally there should be sufficient latrines for the crowd, but this is not practical in view of the large numbers of people assembled on the site. A rapid distribution will help offset the limited shade or facilities, as well as preventing beneficiaries from having to wait excessively long.
  • It is important to provide a water source, especially in hot weather.




The size of a distribution team should be linked to the size of the distribution; generally, the larger the distribution, the larger the team. At a bare minimum, distribution teams should contain the following:


The hand over of food or commodities  is a highly sensitive moment, especially if it is not well managed. The staff must to be familiar with the general distribution organization and understand his/her roll; be able to answer questions or how to redirect them; and be instructed to know what to do in case of running problems or major incidents. The staff working on the front line or dealing directly with beneficiaries must to receive specific training



Position Supplies

Sufficient commodities for the distribution are pre-positioned in the distribution enclosure the day before distribution. The pre-positined 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.


Adapted from Shelter Cluster

Distribution committees Committees

To assure the affected population involvement in the process and guarantee that its participation is efficient and effective, a best practice has shown to be the creation of distribution committees. Distribution committees tend to work better in stable environments, should ideally reflect the ratio of men and women in the population, and all population groups should be represented. Committees can meet both before and after distributions, where all issues related to distribution should be discussed freely inside the committee and brought to the appropriate agency’s attention. These committees will act as a link between the agency in charge of the distribution and the affected population, helping to:


  • set up a registration/verification system before the distribution of commodities is to take place.
  • make a predictable (monthly/weekly) distribution cycle. This is especially critical for food distributions. Having a regular cycle will also make it easier to follow up on problems that arise during distributions
  • announce any distribution sufficiently in advance, to avoid absences
  • organize distributions so that only a limited number of beneficiaries will be present at one distribution site at any one time. This will avoid security incidents and delays, which can set back the overall distribution schedule
  • establish complaints mechanisms, so the affected population can ensure a way to verify entitlements and services. In case of fraud, theft or abuse, beneficiaries must be able to voice their complaints and know that the distributing agency will take action
  • develop a post-distribution monitoring system. Evaluation of the quality, sufficiency, effectiveness and timeliness of distributions helps to improve the overall distribution system and approach.

Summary of



  • Assess the region of the distribution site and avoid proximity of natural crowded places such as markets.
  • Plan your distribution time accordingly to the caseload. People tend to stress when they end the day without being served.
  • Ensure sufficient community mobilizers and crowd control in the area well visible.
  • Create buffers and one-way flow of people
  • Define the limits of the distribution site and use natural barriers to avoid people out of designated areas
  • Separate and secure the stock area
  • If distributing from a mobile setup, ensure exit routes are cleared.
  • Provide a seasonally friendly place for beneficiaries to wait including basic drainage (raining season) or shading (dry season) 
  • Setup up a control between the waiting area: beneficiaries should be let in the site based on the capacity to process them
  • Make the distribution rules clearly visible with banners and megaphones
  • Avoid using the same gate as entrance and exit
  • Follow the plan: avoid surprising the population with a sudden change in the system


[1] Source: Commodity Distribution, a practical guide: Division of Operational Support; 1997, UNHCR.Yes, Sphere use the guidances expressed by UNCHR in this regard.