Food and non-food items are vital to people’s survival, health, well-being and dignity. In settings where the population is likely to have limited or no access to outside resources, service providers may need to furnish a full food basket, in addition to the most essential NFIs. Food and NFIs are valuable commodities and can cause serious security challenges.

There are several types of transfer modalities used in humanitarian settings for food and NFI assistance. These are:

  • in-kind distribution of food and/or NFIs
  • cash transfers, conditional or unconditional, for the purchase of food and/or NFIs
  • distribution of vouchers for purchase of food and/or NFIs.

To ensure safety, to protect the camp population and to guarantee accountability, the choice of transfer modality requires careful planning and management. Choosing the transfer modalities, in kind, cash or voucher, should be based on thorough analysis of context and the impact of different options on the safety and dignity of women, girls, men and boys. Analysis should include, and should publicly demonstrate, consultation with the affected populations themselves. The rationale for the choice must be clearly outlined and consistent with:

  • the needs identified through food security and market assessments
  • the resources located after assessments
  • the macro risk analysis
  • national authorities’ policies
  • sectoral capacities
  • cost-efficiency and effectiveness in addressing programme objective(s).

Ensuring residents’ access to food and proper nutrition is a top priority. Often people arrive in camps or settlements already suffering from malnutrition. Essential goods help protect or maintain health, privacy and dignity and shelter people from the climate.

Both food security and NFI distribution are closely linked to other camp sectors such as nutrition, water, sanitation, health, shelter, environment and protection. Ensuring that inter-sector linkages are made, and that service providers coordinate smoothly at camp level, is the responsibility of the Camp Management Agency.


What Is Food Security?

Food security is defined by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2001 as: “a situation that exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”


Distributions require very clear and transparent processes. Therefore distribution committees should be established as a routine part of overall participatory systems. They should be transparently selected and representative of all segments of the camp community. Camp distribution committees help ensure effective distributions. Optimally, the Distribution Committee should be involved in:

  • selecting and supporting all aspects of distribution, when an in-kind distribution has been chosen
  • discussions on the available items for the food basket and NFIs
  • assisting vulnerable members of the displaced population
  • planning the distribution
  • explaining the distribution process to the camp population
  • crowd control, conducted in a safe, dignified and nonviolent manner
  • monitoring the distributions
  • assisting with post-distribution monitoring quality control.

Throughout and after a distribution, staff will very likely be approached by the camp population, authorities or others with questions or complaints. Camp residents must be able to voice their complaints and be assured that the Camp Management Agency or service provider will take action. Issues that frequently arise related to food security and NFIs are:

  • lack of familiarity with distribution location or procedures
  • lost, missing or incorrect registration of documents or ration cards
  • faulty items or poor quality food or NFIs
  • corrupt conduct or false claims made in order to receive more food or items.

The service provider in charge of the food distribution is responsible for establishing a relevant complaints- and response system, such as a complaint desk at the distribution point, and to ensure that all queries are registered. The Camp Management Agency is responsible for ensuring that the service provider has set up a distribution system according to agreed criteria.

A focal point should be identified among the staff of the distribution agency, together with a representative from the Distribution Committee, to resolve complaints. Quickly and effectively responding to questions and complaints will have direct and positive impacts on the number of issues likely to arise and the degree of trust between the camp community, the Camp Management Agency and partners. There might be other agencies in the camp setting working with different complaints mechanisms. Thus coordination is needed between the Camp Management Agency and these agencies to avoid confusion among the camp population and inconsistency in responses.

☞ For more information on community participation, see Chapter 3, Community Participation.