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Completing the Jigsaw Puzzle: Joint Assessment Missions (JAM)

By Allison Oman

Allison is the Senior Regional Nutrition and Food Security Officer for UNHCR based in Nairobi, Kenya. She works with countries in the region to give technical support and advice on a wide range of interventions, including food distribution, IYCF, CMAM, food and cash vouchers and coordinates/ collaborates with key partners for camp and non-camp based refugee populations. She is a proud member of the Nairobi Nutritionists.

Special acknowledgements to Kate Ogden and Mark Gordon of WFP for their warm and fluid partnership on refugee issues, and to the team members of the recent JAM in Ethiopia and the UNHCR nutritionist Mulugeta W/T Sadik. Finally, thanks to those who temporarily find themselves without a country or home, and graciously allow us to work with them to resolve the problems inherent in living as a refugee in a camp or noncamp setting - reminding us that being a refugee is a context, not an identity.

Food security continues to be a challenging and often elusive possibility for many of the almost 2 million camp-based refugees worldwide. In East and the Horn of Africa, almost every country in the region hosts protracted refugee situations, where refugees live encamped and rely primarily on food aid to meet their monthly food requirements. UNHCR partners closely with the World Food Programme (WFP) to meet the basic food needs of the refugees in places where food aid is required. WFP is committed to supplying approximately 2100 kcal/person/day in situations where the refugees are not able to significantly or consistently contribute to their own food intake - a situation in many of the refugee camps in East and Horn of Africa, including Ethiopia. UNHCR, within the overall mandate of protection, is focused on ensuring that the food is part of the overall basic assistance package and meets the minimum nutritional requirements, at times augmenting the general food distribution with complementary foods when necessary to bolster micronutrient content or enhance dietary diversification.

Joint assessment missions (JAM)

In order to assess the food security and coping mechanisms of refugee caseloads, joint assessment missions (JAM) have been organised since 1994 and are carried out in most protracted refugee situations every two years. These review/re-assessment missions are a unique opportunity for UNCHR and WFP to undertake a joint analysis of the ongoing context in the field and determine programmatic options for supporting the refugee caseload with food and other needs. A JAM Guideline, drafted in 2004 and revised in 2008, represents a working manual with many tools and suggestions for best practice in examining food and non-food needs and fulfilling organisational responsibilities. These are laid out in the 2002 (updated in 2010) memorandum of understanding (MOU) between UNHCR and WFP. According to the guidelines, "The ultimate goal of the partnership between UNHCR and WFP is to ensure that food security and related needs of the refugees and returnees (and persons of concern) that UNHCR is mandated to protect and assist are adequately addressed." (MOU, paragraph 2.1).

Children in Melkadida Camp

Food aid provision to refugees

UNHCR provides complementary foods and selective nutritional supplies where indicated. In some refugee situations worldwide, refugees have access to formal legal labour, to agricultural lands for own cultivation or to significant livelihood opportunities that support their ability to provide some or all of the food for themselves. In some places, the location of the refugee camps (dry, desertified areas) or the political situation (no freedom of movement or no work permits available) or demographic constraints (camps of new arrivals, camps of primarily women and young children, or camps far from economic opportunities) curtail the possibility of refugees growing or purchasing their own food. In these instances, food aid is requested by the host government and in most situations provided by WFP.

Refugees are also in need of non-food items (NFI). Some essential NFI are provided by UNHCR on a periodic basis (or as a 'one-off' distribution) such as cooking fuel, kitchen sets and plastic sheeting. Additional NFIs provided by other implementing partners or groups include books, clothes or shoes, while some NFIs are not provided at all, e.g. wash basins, combs, adornments, tea kettles. In refugee settings where there are few economic opportunities, the refugees will often use the sale of the ration to purchase NFIs that are not provided.

WFP, according to international standards, has determined that a 'full ration' is a food basket that has a value of approximately 2,100 kcal/per person/per day, with commodities that have adequate protein and fat content, as well as key micronutrients in sufficient quantity. In practice, the ration rarely meets 100% of these key benchmarks, often due to very low levels of vitamin C, iron, or calcium. The ration caloric value can also be adjusted if external factors such as an unusual demographic situation (predominantly adult men in a camp or a high altitude camp) suggest that a higher caloric value is needed for a majority of a population.

It should be noted that the 'magic number' of 2100/kcal/day is not the actual daily caloric intake for any single group, but rather represents a household average based on a family of five where there are two adults and three children. It is based on the assumption that the overall ration will be pooled by the family and shared out according to need, so that the household members with higher caloric need will have their ration augmented by the ration of those with lower caloric need (young children). The demographic profile of the household is very important - for smaller household sizes, if there are several children and one adult, then the calories will be most likely sufficient as the pooled calories can be shared and will meet the adult caloric needs. However for a household with one adult, there are often food shortages when the individual is fully dependent on the ration, because the 2100 kcal does not meet the daily requirements of an adult. One of the challenges of a JAM is to ensure that the ration value and commodity composition is appropriate for the majority of the refugees in the camp.

Food basket of refugees in Ethiopia

Food security in an encamped refugee setting, such as in Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti, and Sudan, is often centred around a food aid ration that is intended to provide most, if not all, of the average 2100 kcal/ person/day target for households. The JAM exercise determines whether or not this level of food aid is required by seeking to determine how refugees are coping within the camp, what access they have to income such as agricultural land or daily labour, and whether there are any clear indications that a majority of refugees are able to meet some or all of their own food needs.

Refugees in Ethiopia are currently receiving approximately 2,450 kcal/per person per day because the JAM in 2008 determined that an additional 350 kcal was needed to replace the losses from refugees having to mill the wholegrain cereal (primarily maize) distributed. The 350 kcal addition was meant to make-up for both the losses in milling (dehusking/milling the cereal into flour reduces the overall quantity) as well as the cost of milling (most refugees use commercial mills). It assumes that after milling deductions, the ration meets the 2100 kcal average ration level. The refugees in Ethiopia are considered to be highly dependent on food aid because of their lack of economic opportunities, including agricultural production. The majority of refugees in Ethiopia are living in arid lands isolated from major commerce, systematic employment opportunities or even agricultural production. Therefore the refugees on average are not able to meet their own food needs and rely heavily on the food aid provided.

Unfortunately, the food aid is quite monotonous with very little variation for refugees living in protracted refugee situations like Ethiopia. Refugees receive a ration basket that provides cereal, oil, pulses, fortified blended food, sugar and salt. In order to diversify the diet to acquire fresh fruits and vegetables, spices and occasional animal products (meat, eggs, and milk), refugees will often sell or exchange part of the ration to purchase other food items. Often these sales/exchanges of ration items for other food items are at very poor terms of trade due to surplus of food aid after distribution and the high cost of bringing fresh foods into the often remote areas. In many cases, refugees are selling food aid for less than the actual cost of the food (including transport). However, the need for diversified and more balanced diets, with foods that are culturally appropriate or more appreciated, represents an important trade for refugees and goes beyond the actual cost or value of the food. The JAM will often note that the high level of sale of the ration reflects a desire for dietary diversity to both enhance the nutritional value of the meal or the palatability of the monotonous ration (see case study 1).

Case study 1: Discussions with the Women's Association In Malkadida Camp

During lively discussions with the Women's Association in Malkadida Camp, Dollo Ado, Ethiopia, Aisha explained her monthly use of the ration:

I have a family size of five. When I get my ration I receive a 50kg bag of wheat grain and an additional 30kg in a sack. I sell the 30kg for 2birr/kg and receive 60 birr. With this money I purchase milk, tomatoes and some firewood. If there is money later in the month, I might buy some onions and potatoes. I take the 50kg sack to the mill and I have to pay one scoop payment for every 2 scoops I grind. The prices are very high. We then eat the wheat flour with the red beans, oil, sugar and famix (CSB) plus the food I bought at the market. Often the food does not make it to the end of the month and I borrow from friends or take food from the storekeeper on credit. We prepare the wheat in three ways- if it is flour, we make injera (flat bread), if it is semi-ground we make ugali (porridge) and if it is unground, we grind it by hand, soak it and cook it with beans and oil- but it is not good like this for the children, it gives them stomach ache. I would like to buy rice and pasta but it is very expensive in the market, so I eat what I am given and sell what I can to buy a few other essentials.

Aisha, Malkadida Camp, October 2010

The challenge of JAM

An ongoing issue in JAM in assessing the level of food security is to determine what refugees need in terms of food and NFIs based on what they receive through food aid and NFI, and what a refugee household can self-provide in terms of own production, income, remittances, savings, and barter/trade. Clearly agencies would prefer to spend the least resources needed, yet at the same time ensure that refugees are, to some degree, food secure. There is therefore a need to understand what refugees can provide and what needs to be provided.. This can vary widely from country to country, from camp to camp and then from household to household within the camp depending on level of self-reliance of the family.

UNHCR and WFP undertake a JAM in order to understand the situation, needs, risks, capacities and vulnerabilities of refugees with regards to food and nutritional needs. In order to understand this, the JAM must look not only at the food security of an individual household, but also develop a basic understanding of all of the assistance programme s in the camp. In order to understand this it is necessary to look into different sectors, different programme areas and the diverse causal areas that can lead to food and nutrition security for refugees. These include access to agricultural land, cooking fuel sources, milling and transportation costs, health and nutrition services, special nutrition programmes, infant and young child feeding, income generation and livelihood opportunities, to name a few.

A water point in Melkadida camp, Kenya

Regional JAM training

Over the last two years, UNHCR and WFP have been attempting to standardise the JAM process to improve outcomes, including key achievable recommendations and a report reflecting the key issues. To that end, two joint regional trainings have been organised in Rwanda and Ethiopia, with a third planned for November 2010 in Jordan. The regional trainings have highlighted the stages of a JAM from terms of reference (TOR) to field work to debrief to joint plan of action. Participants are invited from WFP and UNHCR offices as well as key implanting partners or government representation. The goal of the training is to enhance understanding of the joint process, to discuss how it relates back to the shared MOU and utilisation of the JAM Guidelines.

Traditionally a JAM has six distinct stages: planning and drafting of the TOR, creating the thematic teams and the thematic checklists, training of participants in the JAM before the field work, undertaking the field work and review of the secondary data, information analysis, and drafting of the report and key recommendations, finalisation of the report and development of the joint plan of action to operationalise the recommendations. Participation of both UNHCR and WFP is essential at all of the six stages to ensure that both agencies have input on the key issues to address and are part of the investigation and analysis. Typically a JAM will have either five or six thematic teams and each of the teams will comprise a mix of UNHCR, WFP and implementing partner staff. This adds to the richness of the discussion and the analysis as different team members have unique perspectives and experience, yet must reach consensus with one another.

Ethiopia JAM 2010

In the JAM which took place in Ethiopia in October 2010, there were five thematic teams covering food security and coping strategies (team 1), logistics, roads, warehousing, NFI and markets (team 2), health, nutrition, education and school feeding (team 3), environment, shelter, cooking fuel, livestock, WASH and agriculture (team 4), and durable solutions, new arrivals, refuge numbers, host community and contingency plans (team 5). Three separate operational teams travelled to the different areas of Ethiopia due to the large geographic distances between the camps- one team to the North to focus on the Eritrean caseload, one team to the East to focus on the three Jijiga-area Somali camps and one team to the South to address the Somali caseload in Dollo Ado. The JAM organisation ensured that each team had representation for the five thematic areas from the different agencies and was scheduled to ensure that each camp received one to two days of field work. The actual information gathering of the JAM is in three distinct phases - review of secondary data, field work and then analysis. After the thematic teams have determined their key findings and recommendations, these are then shared with the other thematic teams inthe wider JAM mission in order to reach consensus taking all into account. This process of consensus is very important for the JAM because it not only encourages assessing issues from a multi-sectoral viewpoint, but also ensures that the recommendations reflect the different capacities and expertise of the agencies involved.

A focus group during the Ethiopia JAM in Bolkolmayo camp

In the Ethiopia JAM, the different teams were charged with using secondary data, field work and analysis to review the current provision of services, the changes and potential improvements in the last two years, as well as the progress made on the JAM recommendations made in the previous JAM 2008. The JAM 2010 focused on the relatively new Somali caseload in the south and the expanding Eritrean refugee population in the north, as well as those living in camps and in scattered settlements in the Afar region. Key issues highlighted in the TOR included the lack of meaningful durable solutions available beyond resettlement, provision of basic assistance to the hard to reach caseloads (Afar and Dollo Ado) and the protection concerns, including sexual and gender based violence. The report should be completed by the end of November 2010 and the key issues/recommendations in the report will serve as the basis of the joint plan of action between UNHCR, WFP, ARRA and the implementing partners for the next two years.

Case study 2: A snapshot of a JAM debriefing during the field work

At 5:30pm, the last team, Team 3, arrived in a cloud of dust and emerged from their filthy land cruiser. They had been delayed in the camp in order to complete one final focus group discussion with the community health workers. They entered the outdoor meeting hall just as the sun was beginning to set. It was still hot, about 40 degrees, and the fluorescent lights were attracting the crickets that had hatched the day before. As each team leader rose to discuss key points and recommendations, they were dive bombed by a swarm of crickets, which covered their clothes and occasionally dropped into their shirts.

The discussion was lively, at times heated, as the different groups discussed and debated the findings of the day. "Ok, so people are selling the ration to buy other foods- which ones?" "How much is a kg of wheat worth?" Who is making the profit from the mill?" "How many refugees are working with the NGOS?" "Who are the primary groups considered vulnerable?" "Do people like the dome tents? What were they saying they would prefer for shelter?" "How soon can we end water tankering?" Each group presented and debated, making notes on recommendations and discussing until the entire team agreed on the issue and some possible solutions.

It was now 9:00pm - dinner and a shower waited and there were still final notes to type and changes to make before the JAM in this camp was completed. The teams would be leaving at 6:30am the next morning for the other camp.The JAM coordinator thanked everyone and called it a night, and the exhausted but excited team wandered into what remained of the evening, still debating the relative merits of wheat flour compared to wheat grain.

Dollo Ado, October 2010

In many ways, a JAM is a jigsaw puzzle, where the different pieces come together to represent the food security of the refugees living in a camp. How refugees configure their lives within the limitations and opportunities of a camp, how food is shared, sold, bartered, the household decisions regarding food preferences and meal planning for different household members, the purchase of necessary non-food items or additional luxury items, the possibilities of income generation, day labour or employment opportunities, the opportunities for agricultural production or livestock raising and the provision of basic services including adequate shelter, water, hygiene, sanitation and the availability of adequate health services. All of these are pieces that allow us to construct a profile of the households in the camp in order to then determine both the opportunities for self-reliance as well as the need for external assistance.

For more information, contact: Allison Oman, email:

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Reference this page

Allison Oman (). Completing the Jigsaw Puzzle: Joint Assessment Missions (JAM). Field Exchange 40, February 2011. p49.



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