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Depending on who manage the distribution, we can find three different methodologies, that 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 Distribution

Mainly in the case of Food, the 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.

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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.

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To whom

System Description

Type of situation in which these systems have been used

Advantages

Disadvantages

Prerequisites for Success

Community leaders.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 Heads of family representative. Family 

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 Heads of family.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).

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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.

The system election selection will have an impact in the physical set up for the commodities handover. (see Distribution Process)

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