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Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response

Food security - food transfers standard 5: Targeting and distribution

The method of targeted food distribution is responsive, timely, transparent and safe, supports dignity and is appropriate to local conditions.

Key actions (to be read in conjunction with the guidance notes)

Key indicators (to be read in conjunction with the guidance notes)

Guidance notes

  1. Targeting: Food should be targeted to the people assessed to be most in need: the most acutely food-insecure households and malnourished individuals (see Vulnerabilities and capacities of disaster-affected populations and Food security and nutrition assessment standard 1 and standard 2). Targeting spans throughout the intervention, not just the initial phase. Finding the right balance between exclusion errors (which can be life-threatening) and inclusion errors (which are potentially disruptive or wasteful) is complex; moreover, reducing errors normally increases costs. In acute emergencies, inclusion errors may be more acceptable than exclusion errors: blanket distributions may be appropriate in sudden-onset disasters where all households have suffered similar losses, or where a detailed targeting assessment is not possible due to lack of access. The selection of agents involved in targeting should be based on their impartiality, capacity and accountability. Targeting agents may include local elders, locally elected relief committees, civil society organisations, local NGOs, local governmental institutions, or international NGOs. The selection of women targeting agents is strongly encouraged. Targeting approaches need to be clear and accepted by both recipient and non-recipient populations to avoid creating tensions and doing harm (see Core Standard 1, guidance note 3 and Protection Principle 2).
  2. Registration: Formal registration of households to receive food should be carried out as soon as is feasible, and updated as necessary. Information on beneficiaries is essential to design an effective distribution system (the size and demographic profile of a population influences the organisation of distribution), to draw up beneficiary lists, tally sheets and rations cards (if issued) and to identify people with specific needs. In camps, registration is often challenging, especially where displaced people do not have identification documents (see Protection Principle 4, Guidance notes 4-5). Lists from local authorities and community-generated household lists may be useful, provided an independent assessment proves them accurate and impartial. Women from the disaster-affected population should be encouraged to help in the registration process. Agencies should ensure that vulnerable individuals are not omitted from distribution lists, especially housebound people. While heads of household are normally registered, women should have the right to be registered in their own names: women may utilise transfers more appropriately at household level. If registration is not possible in the initial stages of a disaster, it should be completed as soon as the situation has stabilised; this is especially important when food transfers are required for lengthy periods. A complaints and response mechanism should be established for the registration process (see Core Standard 1, guidance notes 2 and 6).
  3. Distribution methods for ‘dry’ rations: Most distribution methods evolve over time. A general food distribution is normally in the form of dry rations to be cooked by beneficiaries in their homes. Recipients could be an individual or household ration-card holder, a representative of a group of households, traditional leaders or leaders of a community-based targeted distribution. Conditions on the ground determine the best recipient to select, and changing conditions may change the recipient. The risks inherent in distributions via representatives or leaders should be carefully assessed. The selection of the recipients should consider the impact on workloads and possible risks of violence, including domestic abuse (see Protection principles 1 and Protection Principle 2). The frequency of distributions should consider the weight of the food ration and the beneficiaries’ means to carry it home. Specific action may be necessary to ensure that older people and persons with disabilities can collect their entitlements: other community members may assist but providing weekly or two-week rations may be easier to collect than monthly rations. Attempts to target vulnerable people should not add to any stigma that they already experience: this may be a particular issue in populations with a large number of people living with HIV and AIDS (see Protection Principle 4, guidance notes 1, 9–11).
  4. Distribution methods for ‘wet’ rations: Exceptionally, a general food distribution can be a cooked meal or ready-to-eat food for an initial period during an acute emergency. These rations may be appropriate when, for example, people are on the move, extreme insecurity and carrying food home would put beneficiaries at risk of theft or violence, high levels of abuse or taxation excludes vulnerable people, major displacement results in people losing their assets (cooking equipment and/or fuel) or leaves them too weak to cook for themselves, local leaders are diverting rations or there are environmental considerations (e.g. to protect a fragile ecological environment by avoiding firewood collection). School meals and food incentives for education personnel may be used as a distribution mechanism in an emergency (see INEE Minimum Standards for Education).
  5. Distribution points and travel: Distribution points should be established where they are safe and most convenient for the recipients, not based on logistic convenience for the agency (see Protection Principle 3, guidance notes 6–9). These should take into consideration terrain and proximity to other sources of support (potable water, toilets, medical services, shade, shelter, safe spaces for women). Distribution points should avoid areas where people would have to cross military or armed checkpoints or negotiate safe passage. The frequency of distributions and the number of distribution points should take into account the time it takes recipients to travel to distribution points and the practicalities and costs of transporting commodities. Recipients should be able to travel to and from a distribution point within one day; alternative means of distribution should be developed to reach those who cannot and may be isolated (e.g. individuals with mobility difficulties). Walking speeds average 5 km/hour but are slower on poor terrain and on slopes; times vary with age and level of mobility. Access to distribution is a common source of anxiety for marginalised and excluded populations in a disaster situation. Distributions should be scheduled to minimise disruption to everyday activities, at times that allow travel to distribution points during daylight hours for the protection of recipients and to avoid beneficiaries staying overnight, as this carries additional risks (see Protection Principle 1).
  6. Minimising security risks: Food distributions can create security risks, including diversion and violence. Tensions can run high during distributions. Women, children, older people and persons with disabilities are at particular risk of losing their entitlements. The risks must be assessed in advance and steps taken to minimise them. These include supervision of the distributions by trained staff and guarding of distribution points by the affected populations themselves. If necessary, the local police may be involved, but they should be sensitised to the objectives of the food transfers. Careful planning of the site layout at distribution points can facilitate crowd control and lower security risks. Specific measures to prevent, monitor and respond to gender-based violence, including sexual exploitation associated with food distribution, should be enforced. These include segregating men and women, for example through a physical barrier or by offering separate distribution times, informing all food distribution teams about appropriate conduct and penalties for sexual abuse, and including female ‘guardians’ to oversee off-loading, registration, distribution and post-distribution of food (see also guidance note 5 and Protection Principle 2).
  7. Dissemination of information: Recipients should be informed about:
    • the quantity and type of ration to be distributed and the reasons for any differences from the plan; ration information should be displayed prominently at distribution sites in formats accessible to people who cannot read or who have communication difficulties (e.g. written in the local language and/or drawn pictorially and/or as oral information) so that people are aware of their entitlements
    • the distribution plan (day, time, location, frequency) and any changes
    • the nutritional quality of the food and, if needed, special attention required by recipients to protect its nutritional value
    • the requirements for the safe handling and use of the foods
    • specific information for optimum use of food for children (see Infant and young child feeding standards 1 and 2)
    • the appropriate ways for recipients to obtain more information on the programme and the process for complaints.

      (See Core Standard 1, guidance notes 4–6.)
  8. Changes to the programme: Changes in the food basket or ration levels caused by insufficient availability of food must be discussed with the recipients, through distribution committees, community leaders and representative organisations. A course of action should be jointly developed before distributions are made. The distribution committee should inform people of changes, the reasons behind them and when normal rations will be resumed. The following options may be considered:
    • reduce the rations to all recipients (an equal share of available commodities or a reduced food basket)
    • give a ‘full’ ration to vulnerable individuals and a ‘reduced’ ration to the general population
    • as a last resort, postpone the distribution.

      If distribution of the planned ration is not possible, the shortfall is not necessarily corrected in the following distribution (i.e. retroactive provision may not be appropriate).
  9. Monitoring and evaluation should be carried out at all levels of the supply chain and to the point of consumption (see Core Standard 5). At distribution points, check that arrangements for distributions are in place before they take place (e.g. for registration, security, dissemination of information). Random weighing should be carried out on rations collected by households to measure the accuracy and equity of distribution management, with recipients interviewed. Random visits to households can help ascertain the acceptability and usefulness of the ration, and also identify people who meet the selection criteria but are not receiving food. Such visits can also discover if extra food is being received, where it is coming from, what it is being used for and by whom (e.g. as a result of commandeering, recruitment or exploitation, sexual or otherwise). Monitoring should analyse the impact of food transfers on the safety of the beneficiaries. The wider effects of food distributions should also be evaluated, such as implications of the agricultural cycle, agricultural activities, market conditions and availability of agricultural inputs.