Logistics, health and aid: How to organise a distribution in six easy steps - A Humourless Lot

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How to organise a distribution in six easy steps

by Michael Keizer on June 2, 2009

"Electronic red megaphone on stand" by Adamantios @ WikimediaChasing’ Carly writes about how a distribution went rather wrong, under the title Crowd Control. So how should you organise a distribution?

  1. Make sure that the recipients know in advance when and how the distribution will be organised. In Carly’s case, probably the right time to do so would have been when the coupons were handed out, the day before.
  2. Make sure that the goods are there when promised, and make sure you have enough. Nothing will incite a riot as handily as handing out goodies to the first half of the crowd and then tell the other half they will have to go back home empty-handed.
  3. Make sure your distribution area is well prepared. As Carly observes, nobody likes to stand in the sun (or rain, or driving wind) for long periods of time, so make sure there are shelters; use rope and posts to demarcate corridors for lines; prepare signs for the various queues; make sure that you have communication equipment (a.k.a. a megaphone or bullroarer); ensure water, sanitation, and where appropriate, food are available; etcetera, etcetera. If you start thinking about this on the day itself, you are definitely too late.
  4. Make sure that your registration system is prepared. I will write more about this at some time in the future (thank you, Rob Stephenson, for giving me some serious food for thought on the subject).
  5. Make sure that you have crowd control systems in place. Have ‘crowd controllers’ in situ several hours before the distribution starts. Ensure that they are clearly recognisable. Have authority figures from the community (elders, church leaders, whatever works in the context you are in) assist them by bolstering their clout and by defusing possible conflicts. Make sure that everybody knows what to do when things get really ugly (basically: run).
  6. Make sure that you have logistics back-up capacity. Have one or more people with some logistics experience at the ready who are not directly involved in the distribution itself, and who can jump in when logistics (for whatever reason) breaks down. Ensure that they have sufficient extra materials (rope, plastic sheeting, water, duct tape, spare megaphone, etcetera, etcetera) to be effective.

And a bonus step: don’t call in the cavalry unless lives are in danger. In most aid contexts, it is a sure-fire way to lose cooperation.

A little exercise for the reader: why is the title of Carly’s post incorrect? (I suspect it is on purpose – a more descriptive title would probably draw far fewer readers.)

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Jurgen.Hulst June 2, 2009 at 5:01 pm

I was just in the process of making a training module on commodity distribution in emergencies. By far the best guideline I’ve seen so far is “Commodity distribution: A practical guide for field staff, UNHCR, 1997” (link above at Website).
It’s from 1997, but the main principles and planning have remained the same.


Michael Keizer June 3, 2009 at 12:23 am

Thanks, Jurgen, that is a good addition. In fact, the guide is much wider in scope than this blog post (as one can imagine from a 77-page book).

Another one that is not too bad is the FEMA/USACE guide for POD operations; it is very American and has a lot of stuff about specific FEMA and USACE organisation, but also some good points to take into account for distributions in other settings. I particularly like their take on mobile distribution (something we don’t do often enough) and how they take into account urban settings (which will be more and more important in international aid as well).


Chris Watkins August 30, 2009 at 3:28 pm

Useful stuff. Would love to put it in a wiki page on Appropedia – have you considered using an open license, e.g. CC-BY-SA? (Can’t remember if I’ve asked you already – I likely have.)


Michael Keizer August 30, 2009 at 3:59 pm

No, you haven’t asked yet. 😉

Actually, for the moment I do haven’t really looked into the various options of open licensing and stayed on the safe side, i.e. full copyright protection, all rights reserved. However, I will probably move towards open licensing later on (once I get this blog back on track again). In the interim, I could grant you a non-exclusive right to re-publish on Appropedia, but I guess that would probably clash with Appropedia’s policies.


Chris Watkins August 30, 2009 at 4:58 pm

In the interim, I could grant you a non-exclusive right to re-publish on Appropedia, but I guess that would probably clash with Appropedia’s policies.

Thanks for the thought, but yes, there’s a clash. We publish under CC-BY-SA, so if we add something through a non-exclusive right to re-publish, then we’d have to tell people to not re-use certain bits… messy.

I hope you go with CC-BY-SA, or CC-BY (SA gives you a little more protection about how it’s reused – someone can’t reuse and then not share back). Those are the two licenses which allow us to use the work on Appropedia. If you have any questions, or if there’s anything we can do to help the process along, please let us know!

See http://www.appropedia.org/Blogs_relevant_to_Appropedia for some related blogs, some of which use open licenses.


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