3. Distribution planning

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.

Distribution planning should consider which method of distribution is appropriate. The choice of distribution system depends on:

  • the extent to which recipient representatives, community leaders or local officials have the capacity and can be relied on to ensure distribution to targeted recipients
  • Appropriate timing during which distribution can be conducted i.e. a time when all or most recipients can be available
  • the ability to ensure effective monitoring
  • the security situation and urgency of need
  • donor requirements and restrictions
  • the resources available.

3.1.1 Advantages and disadvantages of different distribution systems

(Adapted from WFP Emergency Operations Handbook, 2002 in Annex 19.2). Please note that this example is focused on food and commodity distribution.

Mechanism Advantages Disadvantages
Through local government


  • Quick and efficient when local infrastructure is sufficient
  • Builds local capacity
  • Commonly used during early stages of emergency response


  • Government capacity may be limited
  • High cost when local infrastructure needs to be reinforced
  • Government (or officials) may have financial or political motives for controlling distributions to recipients
Through traditional leaders


  • The social and cultural values of the population are respected
  • Easy in the initial stages of emergency and for dispersed populations
  • Low cost and quick
  • No external registration or ration cards are needed
  • Knowledge of social structures and power relations is essential
  • Effective only in small intact communities
  • Risk of abuse if social structures are broken down or are replaced by abusive leadership
  • Difficult to monitor
Through new groups or committees


  • Undermines abusive power relations and has a lower risk of abuse
  • Agency understanding of the local society
  • Some community participation, particularly women’s representation, occurs
  • Self-monitoring
  • Low-cost
  • External registration and ration cards are needed in some cases
  • Appropriate in stable situations only
  • Groups must be elected so that they truly represent communities
  • Resentment from traditional leadership
  • Extensive information campaigns are needed
  • Plans must be in place to counter any efforts to undermine new groups by old, established groups
Direct to households in groups or individually(1)


  • Efficient for large unstructured populations
  • Initial control over beneficiary numbers
  • Undermines abusive power relations and leadership
  • Less risk of unequal distribution
  • Easy to monitor
  • High cost (staff, materials, time)
  • Limited beneficiary participation
  • Registration and ration cards are necessary


(1) Where distribution is to households:

  • distribution to representatives of individual households assures more direct agency control but requires considerable resources
  • distribution to predefined groups of households is less resource-intensive and less demeaning for beneficiaries, but is feasible only where there is good registration and homogeneous groups can be identified.

Distribution frequency is the interval of time between distributions. While non-food items are generally one-off distributions, food commodities are distributed at regular intervals over the life of the project. Distribution frequencies may be weekly, bi-weekly or monthly (based on a 30-day month), but as a general rule, 15-day distributions seem to be preferred for food commodities. This will involve heavy logistical arrangements and more costs, so in some cases, the frequency is increased to a month or even two month to reduce costs, logistic arrangements and/or address some specific security concerns.

To determine the distribution frequency, consider the following factors:

  • Each distribution must be supervised and monitored by a CARE distribution team. The more frequent the distributions, the more supervision and monitoring staff are required.
  • The security of recipients and goods, once distributed, must be considered. If large quantities are distributed infrequently, it is more likely that items will be sold by, or stolen from, beneficiaries. Also, home storage of large quantities of commodity may also be problematic for some.
  • Recipients will most likely spend an entire day collecting the goods. As such, weekly distributions will require recipients to invest 4 days/month whereas monthly distributions only require 1 day/month of their time.
  • The expected weight and transportability of goods distributed must not exceed recipient capacity. For example, if a commodity ration of 500 g per person per day is to be provided, and the average family size is five people, then a monthly family distribution will be 75 kg. (500 g x five family members x 30 days = 75,000 grams or 75 kilograms).
  • If the recipient population is totally dependent on distributed commodities to meet their food needs, a shorter frequency of distribution means that the time without food (until the next distribution) will be shorter. If the population is known to have access to other sources of food (confirmed through systematic monitoring surveys), then they will be able to space out their food consumption and make the distributed ration last longer.
  • Site storage capacity and safety and security of recipients and staff must be factored in.

Determine the number of distribution points, considering the following:

  • Advantages of few distribution points:
    • fewer staff are needed to manage, control and monitor sites
    • less infrastructure (fewer distribution centres) are needed
    • less transportation of goods and commodities required
    • harder for people to present themselves at, and benefit from, several different sites
  • Advantages of many distribution points:
    • shorter travel time for recipients
    • easier access for women
    • fewer crowd-control problems
    • beneficiaries (CARE is trying to avoid the word “beneficiaries”, I would suggest we change this throughout this document using either program participants, recipients or people we serve)  can see distribution taking place-easier self-policing
    • special arrangements can be made for weaker groups
    • many recipients can be served at each site at the established distribution frequency (e.g. weekly, fortnightly, monthly).

Keep in mind the following minimum standards:

  • Recipients do not have to travel more than 5 to 10 km (for dispersed populations) to reach the distribution point.
  • For refugee populations, there is at least one distribution point per 20,000 recipients.
  • Recipient households are allocated to only one distribution point.
  • Safety and security of recipients and staff.

Distribution sites are the physical sites where goods or commodities are distributed to recipients. They are generally identified during the programme planning phase. They are located within or in close proximity to the community benefiting from the distributions. Distribution sites are also commonly referred to as final distribution points (FDP), distribution centres or end-user centres, depending on the type of programme and donor terminology.

The use of temples and churches as storage sites during emergency response has proven effective, as local beliefs and taboos prevented criminal elements from stealing from these sites. But also communities selected schools, community centers or government buildings as distribution sites.

Depending on the programme, distribution sites may also be located within partner facilities such as health posts or schools. As such, every effort must be made to:

  • ensure community and/or partner involvement in distribution management
  • promote shared responsibility among the population for security of stock stored at the community level.
  • Arrange adequate security measures, specially if the commodity will be stored long before distributed.

Also consider:

  • Sites should be safe and accessible to the recipients.
  • Sites should be accessible to, but not directly on, a road. This will facilitate delivery of goods yet ensure the accumulation of recipients does not interfere with normal vehicle traffic.
  • Sites too close to an existing market area, dwellings or a warehouse are not advisable, as crowd control becomes difficult.
  • Existing community infrastructure-such as churches, schools, community centres, clinics or health posts-should be considered; but to avoid conflict it is important to coordinate distribution schedules with other community activities taking place at these sites.
  • Sites should be enclosed by a fence (with emergency exits) and partitioned with separate areas for queuing, distribution and the goods or commodities themselves.
  • Sites must be large enough to contain the goods to be distributed, an area for distribution (distribution lines, bins, etc.) and waiting space for recipients.
  • Water, shelter, sanitation facilities and first aid services should be available for recipients as well as staff.


 Minimum standards for distribution sites

  • The addition or deletion of a distribution site is approved by the Assistant Country Director for Programming or an equivalent authority.
  • A written agreement or MOU is signed with community representatives and/or partners involved in distribution site management. When circumstances change over the life of a programme distribution, original written agreements are modified appropriately. This agreement is reviewed by the CARE Assistant Country Director for Programming and includes:
    • complete details on the roles and responsibilities of all parties concerned
    • sanctions that adequately protect CARE from losses due to criminal activities, misconduct and/or mismanagement
    • the names of those individuals authorised to sign for the receipt of goods and commodities
    • mandatory standards and procedures (as detailed in this manual) for the receipt, storage, handling and accounting of all inventory stored in community warehouses
      (if applicable)
    • the names of those individuals authorised to hold keys to inventory storage areas
      (if applicable)
    • commitment by community representatives to prevent exploitation and abuse of recipients and ensure their safety during distributions.
  • Training/capacity building is provided to community representatives and/or partners in distribution procedures and (if applicable) inventory management.
  • Specimen signatures for those authorised to receive inventory at distribution are on file at dispatching warehouse(s) and with the finance inventory accountant.
  • Responsible parties at the distribution site maintain inventory ledgers for all inventory kept in the store.
  • Before undertaking any distribution, CARE staff provides recipients with the following information:
    • CARE’s policy on sexual exploitation and abuse as mandatory guide to follow
    • Representation of women and people with special needs in distribution committees
    • quantity and type of ration to be distributed
    • reason(s) for any differences in rations to be distributed to different groups or from established norms (if applicable)
    • method of distributions, e.g. through local government, traditional leaders, community groups or direct to individual households
    • distribution day, time and location
    • distribution frequency (if recurrent distributions are made) and deviation from the established norm, if any, due to outside circumstances
    • nutritional quality and requirements for the safe handling and storage of distributed commodities (if applicable). If an unfamiliar commodity is distributed, instructions on preparation of the commodity in a locally palatable manner must be provided
    • the fact that no services and/or payments are to be provided by recipients for receiving goods or commodities. If recipients are required to contribute to the cost of transporting goods or commodities from the primary warehouse to distribution sites, the basis for the contribution amount per beneficiary must be documented and made available to the population
    • necessity, if any, for recipients to bring containers for collection of their commodities.
  • A feedback mechanism is established that enables communities to directly report any irregularities, improprieties or unclear practices performed by CARE, counterparts or sub-recipient staff.
  • When distribution site personnel repeatedly fail to fulfil their responsibilities, or sites are performing poorly, sanctions are imposed on such personnel as soon as possible. All infractions and corrective actions are well documented.
  • Where online platforms for distribution are used, then all necessary equipment should be in place and placed strategically to allow easy of and exit for beneficiary upon verification of receipts.

See Annex 19.3.

Distribution planning should include design of distribution circuits (set-up and management of the distribution site and process). The design should consider staffing, security, number of people to be served, transparency and accountability, and speed of processing. Rapid processing is not always desirable and can be problematic, as fast-moving crowds can place pressure on staff and vulnerable groups in the population.

The arrangement of the distribution circuit must be safe and open to ensure that all transactions are transparent, visible and able to be monitored by community members, female staff and managers to avoid risks of sexual exploitation during the distribution process.

Two examples of distribution circuits are provided below. The first is a simple single circuit set-up. The second has multiple counters conducting the distributions. A circuit with multiple counters allows more people to be served on the same site, and is appropriate when food or non-food items need to be distributed rapidly to a large number of people. The multiple circuit model is only possible when beneficiary groups can be organised according to separate lists and assigned to a circuit point corresponding to the relevant list (e.g. lists cannot be copied to each circuit).

A simple but well-organised distribution circuit can serve up to 500 people per day. If the distribution is carried out via heads of household, the number of beneficiaries served can go up to 2,500 (if the average size of the family is five people). In practice, every situation is different and the number of beneficiaries that could be served in a given period of time depends on several factors:

  • quality of the communication and sensitisation conducted with the beneficiaries prior to the distribution phase
  • organisation and flexibility of the circuit: bottlenecks at posts that would slow down the flow of people need to be avoided
  • staff involved: the organisation, number, motivation and skills of the staff determine the manner in which the distribution takes place
  • presence and flow of beneficiaries: a continuous flow of beneficiaries at the entrance of the circuit is important in avoiding periods of inactivity within the circuit. The information passed on to beneficiaries (the time they have been asked to be present) as well as the information supplied on the organisation of the distribution should avoid periods of inactivity
  • type of checking on entry in the circuit: the speed of the beneficiary’s entry into the circuit is determined by the way in which the checking takes place (search for names on the list, etc.)
  • number of posts of distribution (of the type of food items to be distributed)
  • packaging the food items to be distributed (scooping as opposed to kits).

3.5.1 Example of a simple distribution circuit

3.5.2 Example of multiple counters circuit

Distribution planning and logistics planning are critically linked. A logistics analysis must be conducted at the beginning of a response to evaluate the conditions of physical access to the beneficiaries, including the feasibility of distributions (see Chapter 15 Logistics). This should consider sourcing, purchasing, warehousing and transport options and requirements.

The logistics systems and supply source for items to be distributed must be taken into consideration in distribution planning. They will influence what can be distributed, when and where distribution can take place.

There are usually three main types of supply sources (a programme may involve all three):

  • purchases locally, within the region or from the head office
  • donations received and sent to where the intervention takes place
  • supplies provided by the World Food Programme (WFP) or another specialised partner who supplies with the items to be distributed.

Note that when working with WFP, they often play a key role in both in terms of food aid mobilisation and basic logistics. In some cases they will be responsible for the entire logistical operation up to the extended delivery point (EDP) and/or final delivery point (FDP)-that is, the point on the ground nearest to the area of intervention. CARE will usually be responsible for transporting the food from the EDP/FDP to the distribution site, and for distributing the food to the beneficiaries. The EDP/FDP is either a secondary warehouse or a distribution point where the food is delivered, stored and distributed.

For more information on supply sources, please see Chapter 16 Procurement.

The way the goods (food or non-food items) are packed will influence the speed and effectiveness of the distribution. Consider the following:

  • Grouping items in a kit can reduce the distribution infrastructure needed (e.g. stations/tables/staff) and makes the distribution faster (good for when security is an issue or distribution needs to be rapid). It also facilitates management and monitoring of stock flow as only one article needs to be monitored.
  • Packing a kit requires more time, labour and packing materials prior to the distribution, and it is ultimately more costly.
  • If packing a kit, packing should be culturally and environmentally appropriate.
  • Packaging of kits can be negotiated directly with the suppliers (i.e. they deliver pre-packaged to CARE), or an assembly process can be managed by CARE after receipt of supplies.
  • The durability of materials can also affect packaging and distribution options. For example, more fragile bottles of oil that may leak or break should not be packed to prevent contaminating other items or foods. In such cases, it may be advisable to distribute certain items separately from kits.
  • Preparing packaging materials in advance. For example, developing reinforced wrapping for oil with the supplier can prevent many problems during the supply chain and distribution exercise.
  • Gender, diversity and ability to move packages should be considered. Package size and weight should be adapted to the individual retrieving the package.

The distribution plan is a document providing the warehouse manager and distribution staff with information about the quantity of inventory to be dispatched, the time period in which to dispatch it, and the destination (see Annex 19.4 Distribution plan format, and Annex 19.5 Distribution plan sample). Specifically, the distribution plan must include:

  • warehouse from which inventory will be dispatched
  • destination (i.e. name of receiving warehouse, organisation, institution or distribution site)
  • time period for dispatch
  • type of inventory (item name or commodity type)
  • shipment number
  • donor name
  • per person/household allocation or ration
  • total number of recipients (based on the Master Recipient List) total quantity of inventory (number of units or kilograms) to dispatch
  • number and type of transport vehicles required.

Distributions should be scheduled so that inventory (goods and commodities) arrive at the destination site at least two weeks before site-level stocks are expected to end, providing that it is safe to do so.

It is best to plan distributions for only what is in stock and not what is expected, but frequent distance and communication problems between warehouses and distribution sites may require managers to estimate stock levels for planning purposes.

All planning must take into account seasons during a year (e.g. rainy seasons) when regular transport to programme sites will be delayed or suspended. In these cases, extra time must be allotted for transport or additional inventory pre-positioned at programme sites (where there is storage capacity).

Distribution schedules should be staggered between regions so that all sites do not run out of inventory at once.

Minimum standards:

  • To ensure segregation of duties and adequate controls over inventory are in place, warehouse managers or storekeepers never determine where inventory will be distributed or arrange for its dispatch on their own.
  • All distributions are based on a written plan approved and authorised by management. The distribution plan includes quantities of each good or commodity to be sent to each distribution point for a specified period of time.
  • A distribution plan, unless otherwise approved by the donor, is based on the ration size for recipient set out in the programme proposal approved by the donor.

3.8.1 Calculating transport requirements

Transport requirements for distributions must be closely planned with the logistics team.

There are three key elements for determining transport requirements:

  • the ration scale for each commodity (in the case of food expressed in grams per person per day)
  • the number of planned recipients (expressed in individuals or in households, depending on the unit of distribution)
  • the length of time the ration must cover (expressed in days).

For large quantities of inventory dispatched to few locations:

  • Calculate weight to be dispatched (expressed in MT) for each destination:
Weight to be dispatched = Ration x Total number recipients x distribution frequency (number of days) – excess stock already at site
    • For NFI: ration is total weight of per person or per household allotment. The estimated weight of NFI should be available from the supplier. If items are bulky, add an additional 10-15 percent to the estimated weight
    • For food commodity: ration is per person, per day quantity expressed in grams
    • To convert grams to MT, divide by 1,000,000.
  • Calculate vehicle turnaround time (TAT) for each destination (expressed in days or fractions of days). TAT is the amount of time it takes a vehicle to load, travel to its destination, unload, and return to load for the next trip
  • Calculate daily transport capacity required (expressed in metric tonnes (mt) per day):
Daily Transport Capacity = Total weight to be dispatched in mt / (number of days in delivery period / Turn Around Time in days)
  • Determine capacity of a single truck, i.e. how many tons a truck can carry. Because many distribution sites are located in remote areas, short-haul trucks with a maximum capacity of
    8 mt will make the majority of the deliveries
  • Determine number of trucks needed each day:
Number of trucks needed each day = Daily transport capacity (in mt) / Capacity of a single truck (in mt)
  • Include number and capacity of trucks needed per day to other data on distribution plan, and submit to management for verification and authorisation.

For small quantities of inventory dispatched to many locations. When quantities per destination are less than the capacity of available trucks, and destinations are situated in close proximity, one truck may be able to deliver to multiple sites before returning to the warehouse for reloading. Follow the instructions above for calculating the weight to be dispatched, then:

  • determine capacity of a single truck, i.e. how many tonnes a truck can carry. As many distribution sites are located in remote areas, short-haul trucks with a maximum capacity of
    8 mt may make the majority of the deliveries
  • group destination sites that can be serviced by a single vehicle in a single day. Ensure adequate time for loading at warehouse, off-loading at each site, and return to warehouse
  • assuming each group can be completed in one day, calculate the number of trucks needed each day:
Number of trucks needed each day = number of groups of distribution sites / number of days in a cycle
  • Increasing the number of trucks available per day means distributions to all groups can be completed in a period of time less than the distribution cycle (or number of days in cycle)
  • Include number and capacity of trucks needed per day to other data on distribution plan, and submit to management for verification and authorisation.