5. Distribution

1.1 Role of distributions in humanitarian operations

1.2 Personnel

1.3 Prevention of sexual exploitation and gender-based violence


  • Determine the most appropriate distribution system to use (e.g. direct to households or individuals, through new groups or committees, local government, through traditional leaders).
  • Determine distribution frequency and number of distribution points, and select distribution sites.
  • Develop and document a distribution plan, including supply chain and logistics aspects.
  • Design and implement an appropriate targeting strategy to identify eligible recipients.
  • Ensure that distribution planning is based on a good gender analysis to avoid creating new risks for women.
  • Put complaints mechanisms in place and ensure that it is clear to recipients.
  • Ensure inventory control systems and site storage accounting procedures are in place for all relief items at all stages in the supply chain, including at distribution points.
  • As soon as possible, conduct a recipient registration exercise, including creating a Master Recipient List and issuing ration cards.
  • If ration cards are not available, consider issuing sequentially pre-numbered slips to the recipients.
  • If registration is not possible at the outset of the emergency, use best possible estimates of numbers of people to calculate and distribute bulk rations.
  • Ensure registration and calculation of rations considers different types of family groupings.
  • In case of blanket distribution, maintain a Master Recipient (Beneficiary) List of registered individuals or households to prevent large-scale misappropriation of goods and commodities.
  • Ensure the right number of personnel to cover all necessary distribution activities, including distribution management and stock management.
  • Always involve local community leaders in distributions. This will promote transparency; facilitate immediate resolution of any community issues that may arise; and reduce possibilities of subsequent claims of improper procedures.
  • Involve women, people with special needs and other vulnerable groups on any community distribution committees and include them in the management of the distribution.
  • Ensure all staff and community members involved in distributions understand measures to prevent and respond to sexual exploitation.
  • Provide the community with information about when distributions will take place, who is eligible and what they are entitled to in advance of any distributions. Ensure this information is widely publicised throughout the community and reaches women and vulnerable groups.
  • Before any distribution takes place, take measures to guarantee site security. In particular consider protection risks posed to women, adolescent and other vulnerable groups.
  • Use appropriate methods to measure rations (scooping, weighing or recipient division). Also take gender considerations in packaging commodities and make sure that items packaged in terms of weight and size can be handled by recipients.
  • Carry out the distribution using the procedures outlined in these guidelines. Also clarify procedures for those who miss distribution day.
  • Ensure that distribution tally sheets and distribution receipt sheets are completed for all distributions, and compiled by the Distribution Manager.
  • Design and implement effective monitoring systems, including post-distribution monitoring to verify who received the rations and identify any issues to be addressed.
  • Undertake regular recipient verification process and address/report any diversion immediately.
  • Distribution set up may be impacted during any communal disease outbreaks and consideration should be taken for reducing crowd size and possible spread of diseases.
  • Where online platforms like LMMS and SCOPE are applied, ensure appropriate equipment like the bio-metric machines for finger prints verification and also ensure beneficiary have the digital identification cards.

Distribution planning needs to be undertaken at the outset of any response to ensure that programme decisions, supply chain systems and resources are appropriate to the context.

Distributions should be planned to avoid putting women at unnecessary risk or interfering with other women’s domestic responsibilities. Distributions in neighbouring communities should be conducted simultaneously.

3.1 Distribution systems

3.1.1 Advantages and disadvantages of different distribution systems

3.2 Distribution frequency

3.3 Number of distribution points

3.4 Selecting distribution sites

3.5 Design of distribution circuits

3.5.1 Example of a simple distribution circuit

3.5.2 Example of multiple counters circuit

3.6 Supply source considerations

3.7 Packaging considerations

3.8 The distribution plan

3.8.1 Calculating transport requirements

Distribution can be done in two ways: either blanket distribution, covering all affected population, or targeted distribution, covering the most affected people within an affected community. Blanket distribution normally done when the entire community is affected by disasters and they are all in need of immediate assistance, while targeted distribution is done to assist a selected number of people who are the most affected within their community. Targeting is always done through specific criteria applied to differentiate the most affected from the generally affected population.


Targeting is the means by which those eligible to receive distributed goods or commodities are distinguished from others in the population. Funding considerations play an important role in determining the size and scope of CARE’s intervention, and by extension the selection or targeting of recipients.

In an emergency situation involving refugees or internally displaced populations, the targeting criteria are fairly straightforward, as the total population is generally eligible for relief assistance.

  • When disaster-affected populations are integrated into local communities, both the displaced population and the local (host) population can be considered affected by the emergency. Targeting only the displaced population can lead to tensions among the two communities, as local residents see the displaced getting assistance while their own quality of life deteriorates.
  • When disaster-affected populations are living in host population households, consider targeting the host family (with at least a half ration/benefit) taking into account their settled status, and access to resources and income.

In stable situations, targeting criteria are based on some parameter of vulnerability determined by the donor or CARE, preferably in close coordination with the recipient population. Once criteria are determined and documented, those individuals or households best meeting them are identified.

There are several mechanisms for such identification including community-based targeting (community members decide themselves who best meets criteria), administrative targeting (local authorities make the selection decisions), self-targeting (most commonly used in food-for-work programmes) and combinations of these mechanisms.

Each mechanism has advantages and disadvantages. Issues to keep in mind when selecting a mechanism are:

  • administrative targeting mechanisms may require individuals to state information about their assets. Such public statements can be perceived as intrusive and potentially undermine social structures
  • in conflict situations, it is essential to understand the nature and source of the conflict, and how this might influence community and administrative decisions
  • where assistance is targeted through local clan systems, people who fall outside such systems (e.g. displaced individuals) are likely to be excluded
  • self-targeting can sometimes exclude certain vulnerable groups
  • attempts to target certain vulnerable groups (for example, people living with HIV/AIDS) should not add to any stigma already experienced by these groups. Confidentiality must be observed at all times
  • households with malnourished children are often targeted for selective or supplemental food assistance. This may encourage parents to keep their children thin so that they continue to receive rations.

For further information see:

  • Sphere Common Standard 4: Targeting
  • Sphere Food Aid Management Standard 3: Distribution.

4.1 Minimum standards for targeting

Note: Registration of beneficiaries should be undertaken as soon as possible and ideally prior to any distributions. Often in an emergency, an immediate distribution of relief items is required before a complete registration process can be undertaken.

If registration is not possible at the outset of emergency response, use a best estimate of the number of people in a particular neighbourhood within a village or settlement, and calculate a bulk ration for that neighborhood, in consultation with the community representatives.

This initial figure may come from previous census data, community or local government leaders. The closer to the community this figure is obtained, the higher the likelihood that the population figure will be reasonably accurate.

Neighbourhood representatives should then present themselves and receive the goods and instruction on how to distribute them; in other words, how much to give to each person in their neighbourhood.

See also Annex 19.21 Methods for estimating population numbers.

A recipient registration system provides:

  • a reliable and repeatable method to identify individuals eligible to receive distributed goods or commodities and prevent disputes among communities
  • reliable data for planning anticipated resource requirements
  • a means to identify duplicate registrations in an existing registered population
  • information for donor reports.

CARE’s responsibilities for the recipient registration system will depend on the specific donor or counterpart agreement. CARE may be required to register all recipients or only those individuals who become eligible over the course of a programme after initial registration has been completed. In either case, CARE must continually maintain a Master Recipient (Beneficiary) List of registered individuals or households to prevent large-scale misappropriation of goods and commodities.

Recipient registration is labour-intensive, and must be well planned and executed to ensure accuracy, and to prevent recipients from registering more than once.

In emergency response programmes, CARE should begin registering participants as quickly as possible, before leaders begin to seek personal advantage. The later the registration, the more difficult it is to generate cooperation.

5.1 Minimum standards for registration

5.2 Procedures

5.2.1 Operation set-up

5.2.2 Establishing eligibility

5.2.3 Ration/identification cards

5.3 Good practice case study

5.4 Recordkeeping

5.5 Re-registration

5.6 Diversity among family groups

Inventory accounting standards and procedures (such as tracking receipts, issues and physical balance) at site storage locations are similar to those required for warehouses (see Chapter 15 Logistics, or Annex 19.11 Warehouse Management chapter, CARE SCM manual). The major difference between distribution site storage and warehouse storage is storage facilities at distribution sites are generally operated as transit sheds, where goods and commodities are delivered and accumulated only prior to distribution. There should be little inventory remaining after distribution has been completed. For this reason, the following modifications to warehouse accounting procedures apply to distribution site stores.

Note: If the storage facility at a distribution site operates as a true warehouse, all warehouse inventory accounting procedures apply.

6.1 Site storage accounting procedures

Distribution can create security risks, including both the risk of diversion and the potential for violence. These risks must be assessed in advance and the following steps taken to minimise them:

  • Distribution should be made openly in a public place. To maintain a smooth and well-run distribution, the site should be delineated with a perimeter such that people called to receive their items can collect them while the remainder waits their turn outside. The perimeter may be a fence, a wall, a trench or simply a rope on poles as its effect is more psychological than physical.
  • The site should have clearly designed entrances and exists to avoid congestion. Ropes and poles may be used to assist the recipients with queuing to receive their ration.
  • All CARE staff must be aware of, and respond to, gender-based violence or sexual exploitation associated with distribution. The site security must be established with consideration to risks posed to women and vulnerable groups-considering access, lighting, safe travel routes, and open and transparent spaces.
    • Ensuring a transparent process and keeping the population informed on how distributions will be organized, reminding the population who is targeted, and providing them a voice can greatly reduce security risks. Establish a Help Desk and Compliant Mechanism at the distribution site where the population may receive information or explanations concerning the distribution, register a grievance or complaint, or make suggestions.
  • Designate a person to be responsible for security at each site and make him/her known to everyone.
  • Ensure sufficient personnel with megaphones or whistles to supervise orderly movement and distribution. Involve recipient representatives and community leaders as much as possible.
  • If necessary, employ guards (either informal watchmen or actual police) to assist in crowd control activities. Failure to maintain adequate crowd control can be sufficient grounds to stop a distribution and/or suspend future distribution until such time as adequate safeguards are taken.
  • Prepare an evacuation plan for all large sites.
  • Deal quickly, firmly and fairly with any case of disorder or cheating. Move problem cases immediately into a separate area away from onlookers.
  • Organise those waiting into groups according to their communities or other breakdown as per recipient lists.

Minimise waiting periods as much as possible. Consider organising complementary activities or posting information and community service messages to occupy those waiting. Seek to develop programme linkages and opportunities with other sectors and/or agencies working in the same area. Activities may include such things as:

  • posters and other educational material for view by the gathered population
  • pamphlets, literature and other printed material distributed
  • information sessions by community workers pertinent to community issues
  • discussion groups led by subject matter experts on specific topics (e.g. during commodity distributions, promotion of food hygiene such as washing of hands before handling food, avoiding contamination of water, pest control measures, safe methods for food preparation)
  • nutritional survey/monitoring or vaccinations conducted by health workers
  • ongoing monitoring by CARE staff on issues related to programming in the area.

Prior to the distribution, recipients must be well informed of when the distribution will take place and what the beneficiary entitlements are. Methods to inform recipients include:

  • requesting community leaders for each population division to inform each of their respective populations. This can only be effective where stable and trusted community structures exist, and where most community members are recipients
  • ensuring women are involved in community consultation and information sharing
  • requesting leaders of churches, temples, and/or mosques in the area to disseminate distribution information
  • posting information on message boards at the distribution site
  • for a targeted segment of the total population (e.g. pregnant and lactating mothers, female-headed households), passing information through health clinics, women’s groups or any other community groups that are affiliated with the target population
  • distributing leaflets appropriate to the literacy level of the recipients.
  • Use community major events or market days to spread messages about distribution days

CARE’s responsibilities for the formal registration of recipients will depend on the specific national government, donor requirements or a written CARE/counterpart agreement. Whether CARE is directly or indirectly involved in recipient registration, a master recipient database must be established for ongoing distributions, and ration cards prepared and distributed. Refer to the procedures for recipient registration in section 5.

Once the master recipient database is established, a house-to-house physical verification of the accuracy and completeness of information is recommended where possible. This physical verification is especially important if there has been no formal registration process, and/or the recipient list was prepared by the local government or a community committee/group.

The verification process consists of interviews and a cross-check of the information used in eligibility determination, such as an inspection of a dwelling or possessions. To ensure consistency, a questionnaire that includes a checklist of eligibility criteria should be completed during each interview. Document the interviewee’s ration or identity card number on the questionnaire and match the numbers against the master data initially received. Where online platforms like LMMs and SCOPE are being applied, then bio-metric verification of finger prints is applied. At completion of the interview, the interviewee must sign the questionnaire.

As the original registration process is frequently a target of corruption (which can result in large-scale misappropriation of goods and commodities), pay special attention to the following potential types of abuses:

  • female or adolescent-headed households and other socially or politically vulnerable individuals omitted from registration lists (often those most in need of assistance are also the most vulnerable to exploitation and corruption by controlling elites)
  • multiple registration of household members at one distribution site
  • registration of household members at more than one distribution site
  • inflation of household size
  • registration of non-eligible individuals
  • registration of non-existent or phantom families
  • sale of recipient documents
  • the control of registration lists and ration cards by elites.

For a variety of reasons (such as births, deaths, recipients leaving the area, changes in eligibility criteria, lost or stolen ration cards), the master recipient database must be updated on a regular basis, usually monthly. In many Country Offices, the master recipient database must be updated before a distribution plan can be prepared (and sent to a warehouse to authorise release of goods or commodities).

  • In a manner similar to recipient verification described above, examine evidence that support claims (e.g. medical records or birth certificates) or conduct interviews with neighbours of potential recipients, and document in writing the basis for adding and deleting recipients from the master list.
  • Submit such documentation to the Programme Manager.
  • Access to the database is limited and only those authorised by the Programme Manager may make changes.

Distribution tally sheets and receipt sheets provide the primary proof that distribution has taken place.

  • Distribution Tally Sheet: A list of only ration card numbers
  • Distribution Receipt Sheet: A list of ration card numbers as well as corresponding name of head of household, household size, per person ration size, and spaces for date and signature of recipient verifying that the ration has been received.

Prior to all distributions, tally sheets and receipt sheets must be generated from an updated Master Recipient (Beneficiary) List.

Tally sheets and receipt sheets should contain information for only those recipients eligible to attend the specific distribution.

Separate tally sheets and receipts sheets should be prepared for each household size. In other words, there should be one tally sheet and one receipt sheet for all households with only one member, a second set of sheets for all households with two members, and so on.

If multiple communities are receiving distributions from the same site on the same day, separate sets of sheets must be produced for each distinct community.

Upon entering the distribution site, a recipient presents his/her ration card to the tally clerk. The tally clerk places a check next to the corresponding ration card number on the tally sheet to verify that the cardholder is entitled to receive rations at that particular site and/or distribution date.

After receiving rations, the recipient signs the space on the receipt sheet next to his/her name and exits the distribution area. Simply marking X or making an illegible signature is not sufficient. If a thumbprint is taken, then the name of the person giving the thumbprint should be written below the print.

Community leaders or members of the distribution committee (if applicable) should also sign the receipt sheet as witnesses after completion of the distribution for their community.

Once the distribution is complete, the tally clerk calculates the total number of recipients who presented ration cards. Likewise, the receipts clerk calculates the total number of recipients who received rations, as well as the total quantities of goods and commodities received.

All tally sheets and receipts sheets must be presented to the Distribution Manager at the end of the day.

The three most commonly used methods to measure out commodity rations fairly and equitably at distribution sites are: scooping, weighing and recipient division.

11.1 Scooping

11.2 Weighing

11.3 Recipient division

The following example procedures assume a distribution direct to households. The procedures can be adapted easily, through training, to other methods of distribution (e.g. distributions through local government, traditional leaders, new groups or committees).

  • Prepare the distribution site. Exclude all non-authorised individuals from the distribution area and ensure the following.
  • All distribution staff, supervisors and guards have some means of identification, e.g. distinctive hats, shirts, scarves or badges and (as applicable) megaphones or whistles.
  • Sufficient quantities of goods or commodities have been placed in the ration shops (i.e. the areas within the site where recipients will physically receive entitlements).
  • Drinking water, sanitation facilities and a fully stocked first aid box are accessible to all anticipated recipients.
  • Prominently display banners detailing per person distribution entitlements, in local language and/or drawn pictorially.
  • Banners should also include a brief explanation of who is considered an eligible recipient to ensure everyone is aware of their entitlements. Additional means of communicating this information should also be employed, for example by speaker vans, posters, songs and radio announcements.
  • Donor visibility requirements (e.g. display of logo) should be catered for, if no security risks associated with that.

12.1 Additional procedures for commodity distributions

12.1.1 Note on ration cards

12.2 Distribution prior to registration

12.3 Distribution directly from warehouse

The physical distribution of commodities as payment for work performed-Food For Work (FFW)-must follow the same control procedures described above. The main difference with FFW distributions is the documentation required to plan and implement the distributions, as summarised in the table below. For all FFW distributions, the following minimum standards apply:

  • The Country Office establishes guidelines that state:
    • the commodity equivalent for one days wage
    • how work progress/completion will be assessed
    • what outputs are expected in order to qualify for a day’s wage
  • A master participant list of worker names, addresses and assigned ID numbers is created and periodically updated periodically.
  • Attendance sheets are obtained from the community and names on the sheets are cross-checked with the master participant list. Any exceptions are documented and authorised by appropriate personnel.
  • Attendance sheets used for calculating work performed contain signatures or fingerprints of the worker. Daily attendance is generally recorded by crossing out a box on the attendance sheet.
  • Attendance sheets are filed in the programme office for authentication purposes and reconciliation against distribution records.

13.1 Differences between free distributions and FFW distributions

Cash and voucher distribution programmes are increasingly being used as alternative to the direct distribution of commodities and non-food relief items. CARE has recently developed detailed guidelines for cash and voucher distribution which can be used in this respect. (We need to annex the cash and voucher guidelines shared by Justus recently)

For guidelines on implementing cash transfers, see Annex 19.22 Cash transfer programming in emergencies (Oxfam).

15.1 Monthly distribution site report

15.2 Report reconciliation and flow monitoring

The distribution of goods and commodities is the final output of a long and costly supply chain operation. Distribution is the point where the impact of the entire operation is registered by the recipient population. As such, verifying that the goods planned for distribution are actually received by recipients is vital for success.

The objectives of distribution monitoring are to:

  • verify that selected recipients meet the eligibility (targeting) criteria
  • verify that registered recipients received the intended quantity and quality of entitlements
  • determine if distribution staff is following procedures as stipulated in agreements
  • identify any training or retraining needs
  • determine if control procedures are adequate at each stage of the distribution to prevent corruption and misappropriation
  • ensure stock is fully accounted for at the distribution sites
  • identify losses and take actions in a timely manner to pursue claims against responsible parties
  • identify changes in the situation that might call for the adjustment of objectives, plans or procedures, and provide programme management with recommendations
  • ensure that the set complaint mechanism is working effectively

16.1 Minimum standards for distribution monitoring

16.2 Monitoring system design

16.3 Distribution monitors

16.4 Distribution process monitoring

16.5 Distribution site storage monitoring

16.6 Post-distribution monitoring

16.7 Performance monitoring