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UNHCR issues a guide for commodity distribution

UNHCR has just issued a new guide called 'Commodity Distribution - a practical guide for field staff'. The guide covers systems for the distribution of both food and non-food items though there is an emphasis on food distribution systems. Food tends to be the predominant commodity in refugee assistance programmes. The guide which is aimed at the Field staff of UNHCR and operational partners, provides a framework for making decisions about distribution systems.

In addition to input from UNHCR staff, the guide draws on the experience of WFP and several NGO partners. This has provided a solid basis of field experience.

A key theme throughout the text is the issue of control of the system and control of information about the system. How much control over the distribution process should the beneficiaries themselves have? How to balance this (which can sometimes mean giving a degree of control to beneficiary leaders whose priorities may not always be entirely humanitarian) with the control required by agencies and donors? The guide offers a number of approaches to this dilemma and favours systems which give 'ordinary' refugees the means to monitor the system themselves and act as a control on the process. The advantages and disadvantages of the various systems are outlined as is practical information on how to set them up.

The thorny issue of beneficiary numbers is covered in a section appropriately titled "Numbers, how to live with uncertainty". There is a section on the role of refugee women in distribution and there is a chapter on special and recurring issues such as the trading of rations, crowd control and payments in kind. Systems for monitoring distributions are given together with reporting formats. There is always room for improvement, so the guide is issued as a provisional version with the aim of revising it next year in the light of suggestions received from users.

Requests for copies of the guide, as well as suggestions for its improvement should be addressed to: The Food and Statistical Unit, Programme Co-ordination Section,UNHCR, Case postale 2500, CH-1211 Geneva, Switzerland, E-mail hqcs00@unhcr.ch

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UNHCR issues a guide for commodity distribution. Field Exchange 2, August 1997. p20. www.ennonline.net/fex/2/unhcr

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