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Targeting and distribution in complex emergencies: Participatory management of humanitarian food assistance


  • Maxwell, Daniel
  • Young, Helen
  • Jaspars, Susanne
  • Frize, Jacqueline
  • Burns, John


The extensive literature on community participation in the targeting and management of humanitarian food assistance suggests that participatory approaches work best in slow-onset emergencies with no conflict or displacement. Yet the policies of many agencies--and compliance with Sphere minimum standards--require that the recipient community participate in decisions about the assistance they receive including targeting, regardless of the causes of the emergency. This paper analyzes current practice in the targeting and management of humanitarian food assistance in complex emergencies, the constraints to recipient communities' participation, and the possibilities for participatory approaches to improve targeting. Access and security considerations, limited staff time and capacity, and other constraints have long meant that the actual oversight of food aid distributions in complex emergencies is left in the hands of local leaders at the village or camp level. Introduced institutions include Food Relief Committees, or other specially-organized bodies to deal with targeting and distribution questions. Differences in the accountability and legitimacy of these leaders and committees, together with post-distribution dynamics over which agencies have little control, account for much of the way in food assistance is actually distributed and utilized. But much of the process of food aid targeting remains opaque to recipients, who are often not aware of their entitlements or the process of determining who is entitled. The paper concludes with a number of practical suggestions to improve participation in targeting in complex emergencies.

Suggested Citation

  • Maxwell, Daniel & Young, Helen & Jaspars, Susanne & Frize, Jacqueline & Burns, John, 2011. "Targeting and distribution in complex emergencies: Participatory management of humanitarian food assistance," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 36(4), pages 535-543, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:jfpoli:v:36:y:2011:i:4:p:535-543

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